MILLSFIELD – Property owners are defending a secret agreement with the developer of a wind farm that protects them from tax increases related to the facility.
Signed in 2009, the agreement between Granite Reliable Power (GRP), which is a subsidiary of Brookfield Renewable Power, and the 11 property owners called for “the strictest confidence” but it accidentally came to light Nov. 11 and was immediately criticized by some members of the Coos County Commission and the Coos County delegation.
Delegation Chairman Robert Theberge, who is a state representative from Berlin, said in an e-mail that the agreement was an insult to him and North Country lawmakers as well as to Gov. Maggie Hassan, who in July signed House Bill 1590.
HB1590 lets stand the 2008 payment-in-lieu-of taxes (PILOT) agreement between the Coos County Commission and GRP, which operates a 33-turbine wind farm in the unincorporated areas of Millsfield and Dixville.
The 10-year PILOT set the value of the wind farm at $113 million and required GRP to annually pay the county $495,000, but in 2012 when the wind farm went into service, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration pegged its worth at $228 million.
Because there are so few property owners in Millsfield – which is administered by the county commission – the new valuation would have hit them particularly hard; the county commission appealed the decision to the Bureau of Tax and Land Appeals, which upheld it, and later to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which did the same.
Subsequently, the property owners unsuccessfully sought abatements from the county, and Theberge introduced the legislation that became HB1590. The bill’s beneficiaries included the Millsfield property owners and also The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch. In order to quadruple the size of The Wilderness ski area, the resort needs Brookfield Renewable to reduce the setbacks between it and GRP’s wind turbines on Dixville Peak.
Last Tuesday, the relationship between the county’s lawmakers and officials and Millsfield property owners became frayed when a Brookfield Renewable representative inadvertently disclosed that the property owners had a “Wind Park Border Agreement” with them.
Under the agreement, GRP – so long as the Pilot with the county is in place – agrees to pay the property owners not less than $2,500 and not more than $5,000 per year; the property owners in turn agreed to “fully support and cooperate with the developer in the permitting, development and operations of its Wind Farm …” and also to maintain confidentiality.
Theberge, in a Nov. 13 e-mail, said the Millsfield property owners “have duped all of us who worked to protect them from an unreasonable property tax increase,” adding that Hassan had been “a wonderful advocate for the property owners” during the process of passing HB1590.
The county went to bat several times for the property owners, said Theberge, adding that their agreement with GRP was “a glaring insult.”
“Shame on you, the Millsfield property owners,” said Theberge. “You were bold enough to lie to our faces. You now have an obligation to face both the commissioners and the county delegation to explain, if you can, your actions.”
Wayne Urso accepted Theberge’s challenge, blaming the county commission in several e-mails for not keeping him and his fellow Millsfield residents in the loop about the GRP wind farm and for creating the situation that some commissioners and state representatives are now assailing.
“No one from the county came to talk with any of the Millsfield folks to see if we had any objections to the project,” wrote Urso, adding that the residents had three choices in 2009: “Protest the project and then get steamrolled when the project becomes a reality. / Quietly accept the project. / Try to cut a deal with the wind farm so that the permanent residents got something out of the project. Of course we opted for the last option.”
Urso downplayed the benefits to the property owners from their agreements with GRP, saying: “There is no way that the maximum of $5,000 would have had any impact on any of us if we were taxed at $20-$50K annually, which was what was in store for us with the fiasco that ensued last year with the DRA (Department of Revenue Administration) and their new valuation of the wind farm.”
“Our simple perspective is this,” said Urso, “Collectively, they got us into this huge mess. They needed to get us out of this huge mess. And the fact that there was an agreement with Millsfield folks and the wind farm that was drafted years earlier has no bearing on the valuation fiasco.”
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