CANTON – Large-scale wind developers who receive payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements will be required to make payments equal to what they would pay in property taxes, according to a policy being considered by St. Lawrence County legislators.
The policy was approved Monday night by the Finance Committee, but won’t be final until it’s voted on July 10 by the full board.
It’s seen as a win by citizens opposed to the North Ridge Wind Farm, an industrial wind project proposed for the towns of Hopkinton and Parishville.
“We’re very pleased. It’s what we were hoping for,” said Lori Witherell, a member of Concerned Citizens for Rural Preservation.
The proposed policy is restricted to developers that produce more than 25 megawatts of wind and was modeled after a policy used in neighboring Jefferson County.
It was developed and recommended by the county Legislature’s wind committee, an ad-hoc group created in response to a proposal by Avangrid to install an industrial wind farm in the towns of Parishville and Hopkinton.
The policy states: “The county remains concerned that there may be no long-term benefit for the community that justifies granting the sales tax relief and the long-term real property tax abatements being sought by developers.”
The company, a subsidiary of Iberdrola, wants to build North Ridge Wind Farm, a project that involves installing 40 turbines, up to 500 feet tall in the towns of Parishville and Hopkinton. The plan has drawn both support and opposition.
Support from landowners who will receive payments for leasing their land and opposition from residents who don’t want the wind farm constructed.
Legislature Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, said he was leery of adopting a policy that was restricted to wind developers and did not include other alternative energy systems such as biomass and solar. He also questioned whether a policy on alternative energy should be left up to individual towns, rather than the county.
“It certainly seems to me by advocating this resolution of not allowing a PILOT for this particular project it could in effect end this project,” Mr. Acres said. “By doing so, it interjects the county into the decision-making process or being seen as showing favoritism to one side or the other. I’m trying to be neutral.”
Legislator Rick Perkins, D-Parishville, said a survey distributed to residents in both Hopkinton and Parishville showed that supporters and opponents of the North Ridge wind project were opposed to PILOT agreements for wind developers. The survey did not question residents about PILOTs for other forms of energy.
Mr. Perkins said he favored restricting the policy to wind developers because the wind committee did not study other alternative energy.
He said the committee agreed that wind developers are already heavily subsidized and therefore shouldn’t receive PILOTS that give them a break on property taxes.
“Listening to the communities they’re all interested in having them pay their fair share of tax like the rest of us. I believe we should all pay a fair and equal tax. That’s what we’re looking for right here,” he said.
Legislature Vice Chairman Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said it’s his understanding that Avangrid wants a long-term PILOT that would provide annual payments of $775,000 a year that would be split between two towns, Parishville-Hopkinton Central School District and the county.
“The towns have indicated through their board that they are not in favor of granting a PILOT to Avangrid for this project,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “That being said, this would be the only one operating in the state of New York that wouldn’t be operating on a PILOT.”
Mr. Perkins said the towns are not interested in offering PILOTs to any wind developer, not just Avangrid which wants a 30-year PILOT.
He said PILOTs are supposed to generate long-term jobs, but in this case, the North Ridge Wind Farm would only produce a few permanent jobs.
“The purpose of a PILOT is supposed to be an incentive toward bringing jobs to St. Lawrence County. That’s the only real reason for it,” Mr. Lightfoot said
“This will bring jobs that last maybe for a year until the project is completed. But they won’t be local jobs, they will be people brought in for their expertise for what type of construction is needed for these wind turbines. The only jobs that will be left will be support staff, five or six people.”
Mr. Lightfoot said he believes wind companies should step back and realize they can’t have everything they want.
“I think they need to realize we’re not all a bunch of hicks up here and they can walk in and blow smoke and we’re going to cave in and do what they want, Mr. Lightfoot said.
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