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Hopkinton residents receive letter from wind company offering payments on electric bills

HOPKINTON – Avangrid Renewables, the company behind the North Ridge Wind Energy Project in Hopkinton, sent out a lengthy letter last month to town residents addressing a number of issues, including an offer to pay up to 75 percent of residents’ electric bills for up to 30 years.

Scott L. McDonald, an Avangrid senior business developer who has been a part of numerous local meetings, wrote the letter, which is dated Feb. 26. In the letter, he says it is a response to concerns brought by residents to the company.

In the letter, Mr. McDonald writes that the company is introducing an “electric bill offset program” paying 75 percent of annual residential electric bills, up to $1,200 a year, for 30 years after the commercial operation date.

According to Paul N. Copleman, communications manager for Avangrid, this proposal is a direct response to a question from a number of residents – “how would a wind farm help my electricity bill?”

“This is our effort in response to that request to come up with a creative solution that works long-term,” Mr. Copleman said.

Mr. Copleman said that the payments would not affect residents’ relationships with their current energy providers. Residents would pay their electric bills throughout the year, then bring their bills to Avangrid and receive an annual lump-sum payment at the end of the year, which they could use however they saw fit.

All full-time town residents would be eligible for the program, except for local officials and residents who have already entered into a contract with Avangrid.

Mr. Copleman said that the program would not impact residents who do not use electricity, like the Amish, although he said all residents would benefit from the influx of money into the town and school.

The company is also offering annual payments to people with residences within 3,000 feet of a turbine, for a total of $67,000 over 30 years. Mr. McDonald also reiterated Avangrid’s commitment to pay around $750,000 in a Payment in Lieu of Taxes, plus special district taxes, in the letter.

Town Supervisor Susan M. Wood had no comments on the subject when reached by email, other than to say that the payments from Avangrid to residents would be taxable income. Mr. Copleman said that residents receiving the payments should consult a tax professional.

Town Board member Kelly Pullano said that the town board was not contacted directly by Avangrid about the proposals in the letter. She asked for information about the form Avangrid would use for payments and was told it would be a W-9 form, a tax form used to request taxpayer information. Other than that, she had little to say.

“We need to focus on the wind law,” Ms. Pullano said.

For some residents, however, the money will never be enough.

“It is completely inadequate and I view it, as many of us do, as a bribe,” said Janice Pease, a prominent local anti-turbine activist. “We can’t be bribed with money.”

When asked if the payments were a bribe, Mr. Copleman said the term bribe was “charged language” and reiterated that the proposal was a response to concerns from residents.

“I think people are going to make their own opinion” on whether it is a bribe, Ms. Pullano said.

For Ms. Pease, the only adequate compensation from Avangrid would be increased setbacks of up to a mile and lower sound limits on turbines. Like some other residents opposed to the turbines, Ms. Pease believes there may be devastating health and environmental issues that will accompany the construction of turbines.

“If (residents) do find this adequate compensation, it is because they lack the scientific knowledge to realize why it isn’t,” Ms. Pease said. “Because of the enormity of this project … there would be no price that would make up for the loss of well water, the loss of health.”

Ms. Pease sent a total of 33 questions via email to Avangrid about details of the proposal and said she had received answers to about two-thirds of her questions.

The wind law proposed by the town board sets setbacks at five times the height of the turbines. As the maximum height of turbines allowed is 500 feet, maximum setbacks would be 2,500 feet. The proposed law also sets maximum sound levels at 40 decibels.

The Avangrid letter also asks residents to contact the Town Board to express support for the North Ridge project and includes a note about bullying.

“For those of you who have experienced bullying from some in the community, we’re also hoping that you will join us in standing up to the bullies who are trying to intimidate the majority of citizens who want to do the right thing,” the letter reads. “United, we can’t be intimidated. Together we have so much to gain.”

The letter provides no specifics about the incidents of bullying.

“I couldn’t expand beyond what’s in the letter,” Mr. Copleman said, although he did say some residents have expressed reluctance to attend town meetings and support the wind project. He declined to list specific incidents.

The letter also addressed concerns about flashing lights.

“We’re committed to significantly reducing the project’s visual impact by installing a FAA-approved radar-activated lighting system designed to turn the blinking obstruction lighting on or off based on aircraft activity,” the letter reads.

To read the full letter, visit http://www.avangridrenewables.us/northridge/index.html.