HANCOCK – The Select Board decided Tuesday to return a check for $147,000 to the company that operates the Berkshire Wind turbines on Brodie Mountain and demand payment of what they say is owed them for 2014 – $165,850.
They also elected to hire an attorney to pursue legal action against the Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative Corp. in order to recover back taxes and put a lien on the property if necessary.
According to board Chairman Sherman Derby, the three-year Payment In Lieu Of Taxes agreement expired Jan. 1, 2014. Negotiations for a new PILOT agreement have stalled, he said, because the two sides can’t agree on a figure.
“Green energy is great, but when they have to pay green money, it’s a problem,” Derby said. “They’re making more money than they thought they would, but we’re not getting anything.”
The town is insisting that the company pay the same amount agreed to in the original PILOT – $156,600 – for every year until a new agreement is ratified.
In a statement issued by the BWPCC, officials say that it has acted appropriately under the requirements of the original PILOT. They have unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a new payment. They say they sought a vendor to assess the value of the turbines in order to determine a fair payment arrangement for a new PILOT.
The company contends that the town declined the winning bid because it was too much money. Derby said the company declined the bid because it was too expensive.
“We are at an impasse,” Derby said.
“BWPCC understands that the next step in this process is for the town to re-issue the RFP, which was revised in February by the town and BWPCC so as to address issues that resulted in a limited response to the initial Request For Proposal,” the company stated.
Derby said that the difference in the two numbers isn’t much, especially for a utility company.
“They’ve been giving us offers that are not acceptable, and it’s only a little less,” Derby said. “We can’t tell what the problem is.”
Derby said the company offered to pay $147,000 in 2015, $145,000 in 2016 and $143,000 in 2017. That offer was rejected by the town, which insists the payments remain the same. An offer of $150,000 was also declined.
“We received a check this morning for $147,000,” he said, and then the board chose to return it along with “a letter explaining what we need and that we will not accept anything less.”
The company said that check was intended as a temporary payment that would be adjusted when an agreement is reached.
It stated: “In February BWPCC issued a payment to the town of $147,000 as an interim PILOT payment that would be adjusted, up or down, based upon the appraised value in the appraisal report resulting from the RFP or the amount agreed to by the town and the BWPCC (without a new appraisal) in a new PILOT agreement.”
In its statement, the company maintains it has carried out negotiations in good faith.
“BWPCC has worked in good faith with town officials to develop a new PILOT agreement and will continue to do so,” the company said. “The BWPCC has paid all PILOT amounts up through FY 2014.”
The company said it has agreed to pay for the development of an RFP, pay for the cost of an appraisal resulting from the RFP, offered interim PILOT agreements pending the outcome of the RFP process and sent a check to the town for $147,000 as a PILOT payment for FY 2015 with the commitment that if the results of the RFP yield a higher payment, BWPCC will pay the difference.
Derby said that since Hancock was the first Massachusetts town in which a wind farm was located, the other towns with wind farms will be watching for the outcome of the dispute as their agreements could follow in the same path.
“We’re setting the footprint for other towns with wind farms,” he said. “We’re not going to let them come in here and try to bulldoze a small town.”
Company officials expressed remorse that the disagreement seems headed to court.
“In light of all of this, it is most unfortunate and disappointing that the town has rejected the $147,000 payment and instead voted to pursue litigation,” the company statement says. “Litigation will increase costs unnecessarily for the town and BWPCC.”
BWPCC owns the 10-turbine, 15-megawatt wind farm on Brodie Mountain in Hancock, which started operating on May 28, 2011.
BWPCC is a nonprofit entity that consists of 14 Massachusetts municipal utilities and their joint action agency, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. Members of the cooperative include the consumer-owned, municipal utilities serving the communities of Ashburnham, Boylston, Groton, Holden, Hull, Ipswich, Marblehead, Paxton, Peabody, Shrewsbury, Sterling, Templeton, Wakefield, and West Boylston.
The power generated by Berkshire Wind is sold into the member utilities.
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