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Freedom wind farm owner seeks tax abatement

Freedom – It’s been six years since the 4.5 MW, three-turbine wind farm on Beaver Ridge started generating power. That’s long enough, according to the owner, to warrant a 30-percent cut in the assessed value to account for depreciation.

Beaver Ridge Wind LLC has submitted an abatement request. Town officials are scheduled to meet with representatives at 2 p.m. Monday, April 13, in the Town Office. A message on the town website urges residents to attend.

Todd Presson of Patriot Renewables, BRW’s parent company, said the company is asking for an abatement to 2014 taxes that would lower the value of the property from around $9.8 million to around $6.9 million.

Town officials were not immediately able to verify details of the request.

The value of the turbines has been significant since 2006 when Portland-based Competitive Energy Services first approached the town about taking advantage of Beaver Ridge for what would be the first wind energy development in Central Maine Power’s coverage area.

CES touted the tax benefits of the $10 million project, which amounted to around a quarter of the town’s total valuation at the time. Representatives promised a 27-percent cut in local property taxes if the development went through.

That estimate wasn’t incorrect, but the benefits were short-lived and mostly consumed by an unrelated bookkeeping problem discovered by town officials that required an across-the-board bump in local valuations.

In 2012, the state’s school funding formula caught up with the added property value in Freedom and the town’s portion of the local school budget jumped by close to 20 percent.

Town officials initially valued the turbines at $9.7 million based on estimated construction costs, then adjusted the value to $10.8 million the following year. BRW successfully challenged that change in 2011 and the value was returned to around $9.8 million, where, according to Presson, it has remained ever since.

Presson said he brought up depreciation during the 2011 abatement talks but town officials didn’t want to address the issue then.

The current request is not retroactive, he said, and could not be. Freedom’s town assessor on April 7 confirmed that abatements apply only to the current year.

The amount, Presson said, is based on a standard figure of 5-percent depreciation per year computed on a 20-year lifespan for the wind turbines. The guideline is one that other municipalities with wind farms have followed, he said, but for some reason Freedom has not.

“It’s not really for us to say, but we felt that after six years we ought to say something,” Presson said. “Most towns do it every year to avoid a big drop like this.”