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Blowin’ in the wind: turbine taxes, concerns

DECKERVILLE – Carl Osentoski, Executive Director of the Sanilac Regional Economic Consortium, gave a presentation on wind turbine development to a large audience at Deckerville Community High School March 26.

The session was the first of several evening county Board of Commissioners meetings that will be held in the five commission districts rather than in the county courthouse at midday.

“Government closest to the people is the best government there is,” Commission Chairman Donald Hunt said. More evening meetings are scheduled for May, July, September, and November.

Dean Berden of Snover questioned Osentoski about the health concerns of residents living near wind turbines. Berden said he was particularly concerned about the effects of electromagnetic frequencies. Sandy Haggert of Forestville also echoed those concerns and added that he was concerned about the effect on wildlife.

Other members of the audience voiced concern over liability in the case of a malfunction or breakdown like the recent broken blade incident in Huron County’s Sigel Township.

Osentoski stated liability rested with the developer, manufacturer, or installer and that health issues were outside of his purview. He said his organization concerned itself only with the turbines’ impacts on the tax base and job creation.

According to Osentoski, municipalities saw wind turbines as an opportunity for local revenue enhancement, but recent property tax changes by the state legislature would have resulted in a 100 percent loss of revenue. In response to this, he said, Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, Mason, Gratiot, and Saginaw counties formed the Michigan Renewable Energy Collaborative (MREC). The organization is a statewide coalition of counties working together to ensure tax fairness for municipalities that are homes to wind farms.

MREC has been able to carve out an exemption for wind turbines; however, the State Tax Commission (STC) recently changed the multiplier tables that determine depreciation in the value of the turbines, resulting in a 27% loss of revenue for MREC counties.

Osentoski said that since the formation of MREC, the STC has agreed to perform a study of the actual worth of the wind turbines and to form a committee that will discuss the new tax multipliers, with MREC having “a seat at the table.”

The STC has also issued an email stating that assessors may use alternate methods to assess the turbines than those set forth in the multiplier tables, as long as they have data to support their assessments. MREC has hired an appraisal consultant to help provide that data.

With a projected total of 1,250 wind turbines to be built statewide, MREC’s focus on tax fairness could be crucial for the future, as total wind turbine tax revenue under the old multiplier was estimated to be $564 million, while under the new multiplier it would only be $397 million.

Osentoski said that State Senator Mike Green will soon introduce legislation to require STC hearings and studies before changing multipliers in the future, something that did not happen in this case.