The sponsor of 124-megawatt wind turbine installation in eastern Broome County has applied for a 30-year, $21 million property tax reduction in return for two permanent jobs.
Job totals in the tax abatement application represent a reduction from what was stated by project sponsors in documentation supplied to New York regulators and projections presented during community presentations.
In the first year, Bluestone Wind will pay $231,000 in property taxes – to be split between the Windsor and Deposit school districts, the towns of Windsor and Sanford, respective fire districts and Broome County – on the estimated $213 million investment, according to documents submitted to Broome County.
By the end of the 30-year agreement, the annual payment-in-lieu-of-taxes will rise to $411,000.
“The Bluestone Wind project took a very conservative approach in its application to the Broome County IDA, as required by state law,” said Chris Stanton, project development manager at Northland Power. “The number shown, two permanent jobs, reflects the absolute minimum number of people who will be on the payroll of Northland Power Inc. or its subsidiaries at any time in the 30-year operational life of the project.”
The company said the tax break will be offset by an additional $936,000 annually to the host municipalities through a previously negotiated Host Community Agreement, bringing total annual payments to eastern Broome taxing authorities in the first years of the agreement to $1.1 million.
“Payments to the taxing jurisdictions through the fully approved Host Community Agreement and the anticipated PILOT agreement will initially be over $1.1 million per year and will increase each year,” Stanton said. “Payments to host and adjacent landowners will be over $1.4 million in the first year of operations and increase each year.”
A 40-page tax abatement application submitted to the Broome County Industrial Agency contains some of the first publicly released details of the financial package driving the deal and indicates job projections in state regulatory filings may have been overstated.
Though Calpine of Houston has long been the public face of the project and was the company responsible for obtaining the necessary permits, documents disclose the Houston-based energy company sold its interest in the project and a nearby wind installation in the Town of Guilford, Chenango County, to Northland Power of Toronto in May.
Based on designs, 23 towers are to be spread across the Town of Sanford, many visible from Route 17, and another four in the Town of Windsor. Some of the largest turbines could measure 670 feet in height from base to the top of the blade tip. Bluestone turbines will produce enough juice to supply about 100,000 residences at full capacity.
Aside from the towers, the project is designed to include access roads to the turbines, along with electric collection lines, a substation, among other facilities to be included in construction.
In addition to the property tax abatement, the project will escape an estimated $8.8 million in costs through a sales tax exemption and $1.9 million in forgiven mortgage taxes. All told, with fees, sponsors have requested that $33.8 million in taxes and other charges be exempted.
“The project will result in total initial new revenue to the involved taxing jurisdictions that exceeds the otherwise anticipated tax burden per year,” the IDA application says.
Of the $213 million invested, the company estimated federal and state assistance will fund about 40 percent – $86 million – of the total cost. Not included in the project’s final price tag are amounts spent in gaining the state permit and other pre-licensing effort.
Broome County Industrial Development Agency directors are scheduled to discuss the application at noon Wednesday.
“It’s completely inappropriate for an IDA to considering a project of this nature,” said a fellow and director of strategic initiatives at the right-leaning Empire Center, an Albany policy research organization. “They are not trying to create a wealth building activity.”
During the application process many of these numbers have been kept under wraps by developers, who claimed they were proprietary. The application for the tax abatement is the first detailed public disclosure of several financial aspects of the project.
“The project has and will create a long-term revenue stream for underlying landowners in the firm of lease and easement payments, while having minimal impact on pre-existing agricultural and forestry uses of involved land,” said the application. “While the host communities will benefit from new, stable and increasing HCA (Home Community Agreement), PILOT and fire district tax revenue from the project, it will generate very little demand on municipal, school district and fire resources.”
Early disclosure documents indicated some landowners could collect up to $30,000 annually for leasing land to turbine operators. Price of easements could go as low as $2,500. Those numbers are confirmed in an addendum to the application, which discloses lease and easement agreements with members of municipal board in Windsor and Sanford.
“The greatest economic impacts of the project will be felt through construction employment, as well as long-term payments to taxing jurisdictions and host landowners,” Stanton said.
During the two-year construction timetable, Northland expects to employ about 70 tradespeople annually, with an average wage of $74,000. Once in operation, the wind installation will employ two people at an average salary of $86,000, though, it adds, the turbine supplier “will have an additional need for full-time employees based at the site.” Site monitoring can be done remotely.
During public sessions and in documents submitted by original developer Calpine to the state’s Department of Public Service, project sponsors said the project would create 150 construction jobs and seven on-site permanent jobs.
“When push comes to shove, they fail to deliver,” said Anne Lawrence, a wind project opponent and Sanford resident. “We’ve always been skeptical.”
Major wind initiative
Application for the tax deal culminates a more than four year long process to win approval for the controversial project.
Town of Sanford residents mounted a vigorous fight to derail the installation, saying the 60-story high towers are incompatible with the rural, forested environment. Wildlife experts said turning turbine blades represent a hazard to migrating and resident bald and golden eagles.
New York utility regulators turned aside objections, approving the project last December even as the two local representatives on the Public Service Commission Sighting Board criticized the initiative.
“I don’t believe the community was listened to,” John Mauro, a Town of Sanford representative, said as the board rejected an effort to halt the project.
Calpine, along with a host of other recently approved wind projects across upstate New York ,will assist in achieving its ambitious goal of 70% of the state’s electric generation from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% by 2040.
The ultimate objective: an 85% reduction in carbon emissions from electric generation within the next 20 years.
By Bluestone’s estimates, the Sanford and Windsor installations are expected to off-set 73,000 short tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually from conventional power plants and on annual basis.
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