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Town will collect tax on commercial wind, solar projects

COVENTRY – The town has started the process of amending its code of ordinances to allow for the taxation of renewable energy systems like wind turbines and solar panels. The amendment to the tax code would include a standard tangible property tax for commercial operations. Starting in 2017, cities and towns can now collect a tax on renewable installations of $5 per kW, as determined by the state’s Office of Energy Resources.

The council considered a draft of the ordinance Monday night. Attorney Mark Pogue, sitting in for town solicitor Nick Gorham, who recused himself on the matter, said that municipalities can collect the tax as long as they have a resolution in place. The council will vote on a first reading at the next meeting, and then a second reading at the following meeting.

District 1 Councilwoman Karen Carlson implored the council to pass the ordinance on its first reading, noting that there would a great benefit for the town in being able to collect a tax on wind and solar energy projects in town.

Wind Energy Development, LLC owns and operates 10 turbines out of Western Coventry, and has proposed a solar energy system off of Carrs Trail. Pogue said he anticipated WED to claim some type of exemption from the tax.

“I am sure WED is going to take the position that they are exempt from taxation because they had pre-existing turbines in place,” Pogue said. “I think your tax assessor may have a different view on that issue, so there may be a fight. My point is, you can’t even have the fight without this.”

The council held a workshop with the planning board on April 12 to discuss the solar ordinance, but Carlson noted that public comment would not be open. As a result, many residents from Greene took the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting to voice their concerns about the nearby turbines.

Donna Rustigian, a resident of Hopkins Hollow Road, urged the council to keep Greene rural. She said she considered the recent proposal in the form of a letter from WED President Mark DePasquale to the town to be “an assault on the residents.”

“Greene is not for sale,” she said, later adding, “You do owe us because you’re the elected officials and we’re the ones who elected you. There’s not a lot of wooded areas left in this state. We’re one of the last country sides. Let us raise our families in this beautiful area.”

“I think the people from Greene have been pretty clear they don’t want renewable energy sites out there,” said Arthur Rustigian. “They’ve spoken in opposition to almost every one one that’s come up. There’s a fermenting revolution out there. I teach history and I’ve seen a lot of rebellions.”

Ralph Pratt, another resident of Hopkins Hollow Road, took a slightly different stance on the matter.

“My opinion is that rural character includes farms, large estates and parcels, not just widespread residential development,” he said. “Without some commercial use, they’ll no longer remain viable.”

“Point blank, the people don’t want it in District 1,” said Glenn Anderson, a resident of Flat River Road. “They’re not beating down the doors. You have investors that have been here for generations that don’t want it, not just the investors who show up for the hot ticket items.”

Deborah Calder, a resident of Weaver Hill Road, said she moved to Greene in 1974 because of its country side character and quiet lifestyle.

“We like it the way it is,” she said.

Donna Harrington of Hopkins Hollow Road said she is worried about the boundary between residential and commercial development in Greene.

“My concern is that the encroaching sprawl of businesses would slowly keep changing,” Harrington explained. “I can’t understand why these companies want to keep taking and pushing those boundaries of where it stops being the country. Soon it will be Nooseneck Hill Road with one business after another.”

“I’m a firm believe that Greene is precious rural space and once you lose it it’s gone forever,” said William Gallery of Cahoone Road. “I expect the permitting process for solar panels to be especially critical. Right now I don’t have a lot of faith in you folks to step up.”