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Senator wants end to wind power tax breaks

CHARLESTON – For state Sen. Randy Smith, 18 years is long enough for tax breaks on wind power projects.

One of the many bills Smith, R-Tucker, has introduced during this year’s legislative session is to repeal the tax break the wind power companies receive.

West Virginia has hundreds of windmills dotting the skylines, and, according to Smith, communities are missing out on thousands of tax dollars.

“Usually when we grant a tax break, there is a sunset law limiting it for three-to-five years,” Smith said. “These tax breaks have been ongoing for 18 years.

“My problems is these companies are being given a tax break of over 70 percent, and that is funding that could go to the counties,” he said.

Smith used Tucker County as an example of what counties are losing in tax revenue.

“The county only collects taxes on 30 percent of the land in the county because the remainder is state-owned or under land management,” Smith said. “That is not much in the way of property taxes coming into the county.

“Last year, Tucker County received $32,000 in taxes from the wind power projects in the county,” he said. “If these tax breaks had a sunset law attached to them, they would have received over $700,000 in taxes.”

There is approximately $9 million in taxes the state could be receiving from the windmill projects, Smith estimated.

Smith also said the power generated from the windmills is not used in West Virginia, but is sold to other states – so the state does not profit from the energy.

“Also for all these windmills, approximately 100 West Virginians are employed to help service these windmills,” Smith said. “Most of the crews come from outside West Virginia, so our people are not employed, either. We are always coming up with ways to take money away from people. We need to figure out how to begin to give it back.”

Smith also has given his support to the controversial Senate Bill 270, which calls for managed timbering of state parks and lands.

“I was against this bill until I talked with people who understood what is being asked,” Smith said. “What they want to do is managed timbering. They do not want to clear-cut any areas. They are calling for four trees per acre per tract to be timbered. The trees also have a diameter at least 16 inches across chest-high.”

Smith said the majority of the timbering would be done by air, so there will not be any logging trails in the parks.

The senator said an area such as Cathedral State Park in Aurora would be safe from timbering due to its historical status, but he would like to see it cleaned up.

While speaking on the Senate floor, Smith said after 2014’s Superstorm Sandy, “Cathedral State Park was devastated. Because of our rules, no one could go in and get those fallen trees off the floor of the park. All they could do was cut through a path and the debris still lies on the forest floor rotting.

“It would have been nice if we could have gone in there and picked those trees up and sell them and give the money back to the park, which is what this bill calls for,” Smith said.

Smith said trees are going to come down one way or another. “We can go in there and manage the timber and get some money out of it, or let it fall and rot,” Smith said. “That could lead to a forest fire that wipes out the state lands and parks. We don’t want that.”