Lewis County hosts one of largest and oldest industrial wind turbine projects in New York.
The whirling turbines generate about $8.1 million a year in tax revenues to bolster the budgets of Lewis County; the towns of Martinsburg, Harrisburg, Lowville and Watson; and the Lowville, South Lewis and Copenhagen school districts.
Many other communities envy and lust for such tax revenue until they discover the only way they would be able to replicate such a revenue stream that has supported Lewis County has over the last 11 years – tax the owner of the turbines just as they would any other mature industry in the county.
The key difference is that the state reimburses the wind developer for all the taxes imposed by the Lewis County taxing bodies.
This tax arrangement expires in four years.
But its enabling legislation was rescinded and is not available to any new payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plans.
Now Maple Ridge’s owner, Avangrid, is looking to get a head start to create a series of new tax breaks to benefit the wind developer when its agreement expires.
A spokesman for Avangrid told the Watertown Daily Times: “It’s early in the process, but we’re simply trying to exercise fiscal prudence for current and future wind power customers for this site by exploring all cost driving options.”
That is a simple message to the taxing bodies – we want substantial tax breaks.
Unfortunately, local officials seem to be buying Avangrid’s posturing. Look at the comments from county officials:
■ Mark G. Gebo, attorney for the towns of Martinsburg and Harrisburg:
“Obviously, it’s very different from any other wind PILOT we’ve ever done.”
That is a euphuism for saying we are not looking to continue receiving full taxation on this monster factory, which provides minimal jobs.
■ Lewis County Legislature Chairman Lawrence L. Dolhof, R-Lyons Falls:
With those subsidies slated to disappear at the end of the PILOT deal, local leaders understand that any new plan will be less lucrative than the current one.
“Everyone at the table is aware of that. They’re prepared for that.”
In other words, Lewis County property taxpayers will give up revenue because Avangrid’s PILOT is no longer subsidized by the state.
■ County attorney Joan E. McNichol:
Both the company and municipalities at this point favor negotiating a new PILOT plan – likely facilitated by the Lewis County Industrial Development Agency – over assessment-based taxation so both sides have a clear picture of tax revenues well into the future.
The county leaders appear to have already acquiesced to Avangrid.
Nowhere is anyone suggesting that wind turbines are an industry that should be taxed as any other industry and at full value.
Nowhere is anyone discussing anything about the fact that local taxpayers are subsidizing a huge Wall Street investment firm that has been reaping enormous tax benefits from federal and New York taxpayers.
Over the life of the taxing agreement grandfathered by the now-defunct state Empire Zone program, Lewis County taxpayers have received an $80 million state subsidy paid through Avangrid, and they can anticipate another $32 million between now and the end of the agreement.
Lewis County’s leaders are preparing to give up a meaningful portion of $112 million over the following 15 years by asking their taxpayers to replace the money the state has paid Avangrid.
The common attitude of county leaders is that it is acceptable to force taxpayers to forgo the revenue received by taxing wind farms at full value. Why would you ever take money out of the pocket of taxpayers whose median household income is $49,976 and give money to the Wall Street bankers whose household income is significantly greater?
Wind is a mature industry.
This project is nearing the end of its economic life.
Thus wind interests are demanding a tax discount it can use to bolster profits and to garner even more federal subsidies to replace the turbines as they wear out.
Avangrid already has large federal subsidies, a portion part of which come from Lewis County residents’ federal income taxes. Why not just tax the turbines at the full amount? Do legislators believe that the developers will walk away from a lucrative source of federal subsidies?
Why should local taxpayers have to pay even more especially where the number of local jobs is minimal?
And where is any discussion of the potential implications of rebuilding Maple Ridge with turbine towers hundreds of feet taller than the current generators?
Where is the discussion about the impact of industrial wind turbines on air traffic control radar and the immediate effect on low-level flight patterns at Fort Drum? Where is the discussion about the decommissioning plan?
Just how will this renegotiation protect Lewis County residents who benefit from the $1.2 billion in economic activity of Fort Drum if a rebuilt wind farm threatens the post’s training mission?
Lewis County is marching in lockstep in a parade led by a band leader on Avangrid’s payroll.
This individual is following a script written to benefit Wall Street investors, not the men and women of Lewis County who struggle every day to balance their home budgets.
Before a PILOT negotiation charade begins, Lewis County has four years to deliver two strong messages to Avangrid:
Its turbines must not threaten the training mission of Fort Drum, and it will be required to pay full property taxes.
Once these goals are achieved, Avangrid will be welcome to invest in the county.