OSBORN – Voters overwhelmingly, but not unanimously, approved a plan Saturday that will see the town receive almost $2 million over 20 years in exchange for more than a dozen industrial wind turbines that will be located here.
Residents split 12-1 in favor of a $1.87-million community benefits agreement between SunEdison, a Missouri-based company that purchased First Wind in January, and the town.
First Wind proposed building a wind farm known as Weaver Wind in Osborn and Eastbrook, and SunEdison is moving ahead with that plan after the purchase. Officials have said that if approved, the farm would likely not be operational until 2017.
Current plans for Weaver Wind call for 14 turbines in Osborn and eight in Eastbrook.
Of the $1.87 million, $1.12 million would be in the form of annual payments of $56,000 ($4,000 for each turbine) over 20 years. That much is mandated by state law, which says wind developers must compensate host communities such as Osborn.
Of the remaining $750,000, one-third of it would come in a lump sum payment that the town would be required to use for public safety costs.
The other $500,000 would be a second lump sum payment for an energy conservation fund. That money would be divvied up among property owners in town for use on projects such as installing solar panels, replacing old windows or anything else under the broad umbrella of energy conservation and efficiency.
One resident asked, “What happens if Weaver Wind goes belly up and is sold to someone else” – would the successor be obligated to continue the annual payments?”
“Yes, that’s the idea,” said Charlie Baldwin, a development project coordinator for SunEdison. He said if any other entity was to take ownership of the project, it would be “legally bound by the contract” put in place at the beginning of the project.
Selectman Bev Reed asked what happens at the end of 20 years. If new generators were put in the turbines and they remained in use, would a new agreement be inked with the town?
Baldwin said if the turbines were still performing well, there would be “no reason to think we wouldn’t do that.”
Jean Couillard, a Cumberland resident who owns a camp on Spectacle Pond with her husband, Bob, voiced concern about the total number of wind turbines in the area.
SunEdison’s nearby Bull Hill has 19, while its yet-to-be-built Hancock Wind will have 17. Weaver Wind will add another 22 to the mix, bringing the total in the area to 57.
“We’re not against windmills, per se,” said Jean Couillard. “It’s just the sheer number.”
Her husband echoed that view after the meeting, saying that although wind officials have been good to work with “we don’t want to see the windmills.”
“It’s just too many,” he said.
Baldwin said he understood “that the pond is feeling this project,” and said one tangible benefit pond owners will see – along with residents in other parts of Osborn – is a sharp drop in their property taxes.
Because Weaver Wind will represent a huge increase in the valuation in Osborn without requiring a corresponding increase in town services, it is projected to drop the tax rate from a current level of 10.8 to 2.7 – a decrease of 75 percent.
That means a resident whose property and home is currently valued at $100,000 sees a tax bill of $1,080. A tax rate of 2.7 would cut that bill to $270.
Baldwin said the energy efficiency fund also will be a benefit to camp owners, many of whom he said would like to have some source of electric power at their camps. Right now, there is no electric service around Spectacle Pond.
Jean Couillard also asked if wind farms affect property values. While Baldwin said there is a small dip initially, he said multiple studies have shown there is “no negative impact” in the long term.
Following the meeting and the 12-1 vote in favor of the benefits agreement, Baldwin said it “shows that the community can see the benefits of the project.”
Selectmen said the town will have to figure out how to administer the energy conservation fund before the project goes operational. A committee likely will be formed to explore that subject.
The money will begin coming to the town six months after the project goes online, according to Baldwin.
Questions the town will need to decide include whether the energy conservation funds will be available to all property owners or just those with buildings, what the time frame will be for distributing the funds and how to ensure the money is being used for energy conservation (and not for things such as flat-screen TVs).
“We want to be fair to everyone,” said Selectman Bruce Weymouth.
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