Somerset County Commissioners plan to vote Monday on whether to approve the creation of a tax increment financing district, or TIF, for a proposed wind farm in the unorganized territories.
The proposed TIF district would provide tax relief for First Wind, the company proposing the Bingham Wind Project in Bingham, Kingsbury Plantation and Mayfield Township, while also allowing the county to retain some of the tax revenue generated from the $398 million project. A similar agreement was approved by voters in Bingham in March 2011.
A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan. Commissioners expect to vote on the issue during a meeting following the public hearing.
“If we don’t have a TIF, the state would tax the project and the property and use that money for the state,” said Lloyd Trafton, the county commissioner who represents the unorganized territories. “With the TIF, the state still collects the tax, but they have to return it to Somerset County.”
Creation of the district would be subject to approval by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. It would be established July 1 if commissioners also approve the plan.
According to the TIF proposal, the district would include about 1,700 acres in the unorganized territories of Somerset County. The project, which is expected to cost about $398 million to build, would generate about $128 million in new property value and about $11 million in new tax revenue for the county over the next 30 years. That would be about $374,500 in additional revenue each year. Commissioners also expect to vote Monday on whether to enter into a community benefits agreement with First Wind, which would result in annual payments of about $87,000 to the county to be used for economic development, property tax reduction, conservation and other purposes. First Wind has similar agreements with other communities in the state, including Bingham, that have wind turbines in their jurisdiction.
The agreement also would allow First Wind to be reimbursed for some of its costs, totaling about $10 million over the next 30 years, according to the proposal.
The money that the county receives would be used for economic development projects in the unorganized territories, including road improvements and expansion of recreational trails.
“The TIF will generate millions of dollars in future benefits in that part of the county, including residents and future businesses there,” said Jim Batey, economic development director of the Somerset Economic Development Corp. “We don’t have a specific project on the map that we want to invest in, but broadly we want to invest in trails and recreation. I think if we can develop better infrastructure or upgrade what we already have, it will all help the tourism and recreation sector.”
Batey said there is potential for future industrial development in the unorganized territories and that the TIF would provide money to attract new business in, for example, wood-based manufacturing.
“There are some sites that have a pretty good potential for development because they’re near rail, or (U.S.) Route 201, which is a good highway nearby, and there are a lot of trees,” Batey said.
The proposal also lists potential investments in things such as scholarships for residents, expanding broadband Internet access in the unorganized territories and establishing a revolving loan fund for local businesses.
Wind energy has drawn controversy in the state, particularly among residents near projects who oppose their effect on the scenery and who are concerned about noise and environmental factors. A recent appeal of the Bingham Wind Project by the group Friends of Maine’s Mountains cites concerns about decommissioning wind farms and lack of concern for scenic impact as the main grounds in their appeal.
“People who don’t like wind power don’t like the part of the agreement where we give money back to the company. They figure they use that money just to go ahead for more development,” Trafton said.
The agreement will not affect whether the wind farm is built. It has been approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection but requires approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The DEP still is considering the appeal from Friends of Maine’s Mountains.
“This TIF agreement is only about financing. The project has already been approved and will be going ahead anyway,” Trafton said.
The unorganized territories make up about 70 percent of the 3,927 square miles in Somerset County, according to county officials. The U.S. Census Bureau says that as of 2010, 838 people were living in Somerset County’s unorganized territories year-round, and there were more than 2,000 homes in the area, including seasonal homes.
“The proposed TIF provides an opportunity for the county to leverage funds on an unprecedented scale to improve the economic future of residents and the overall economy of the county,” Batey said.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding