An end may be coming soon to the numerous wind turbine taxation lawsuits across Michigan, and the solution is coming from the state Legislature.
Two separate bills introduced in both the state House of Representatives and Senate, if passed, would institute an applicable multiplier for how wind turbines are taxed, setting a standard depreciation table across the state.
The legislation has turbines taxed at 100% of their value for their first tax year, and their value will decrease by 5% each year until 15 years have gone by, with the rate then being a constant 30% of its original taxable value each year until the turbine is removed.
The tax table would be uniform throughout the state and not allow renegotiations afterward.
State Rep. Pat Outman introduced the bill in the House with co-sponsors Phil Green, Gary Howell, Gregory Markkanen, Andrew Beeler, Douglas Wozniak, and Jack O’Malley, while State Sen. Kevin Daley introduced the bill in the Senate with co-sponsors Dan Lauwers and Curtis VanderWall.
Green said he has been working on this issue for the past two years and nine months and has been hearing concerns from local officials who are part of a group called the Michigan Renewable Energy Collaborative. Members include County Commissioner Steve Vaughan and Planning Commission Chairman Bill Renn.
Green added that the state has been in constant negotiation with the utility companies and other wind farm owners but were not able to come to an agreement.
“There was a lot of conversation with utilities, but it came to an impasse,” Green said.
Lauwers did not sit in on the meetings where the tax table was decided on, but he did listen to the stakeholders involved with the turbines and helped try to find a middle ground that would work for everyone.
“(The state budget) was controlling our agenda,” Lauwers said. “Now that that’s out of the way, members can work on policy matters more.”
The two bills still must be referred to a committee and have a committee hearing before moving to a vote on the chambers’ main floor. Green said that he is working to get the legislation through as soon as possible.
Lauwers added that the legislation, however, may complicate the lawsuits surrounding the turbines given that legislators normally do not create legislation that supersedes litigation.
“If the lawsuits are dropped, then the new law would apply,” Lauwers said. “It’s challenging when lawsuits are involved, since the party that’s being sued refuses to share information due to the lawsuit.”
Over 1,100 tax appeals have been filed in the state’s tax tribunal since 2012, as developers and owners of the wind turbine farms have sought to use their own tax tables that see the turbines value depreciate faster than ones created by local governments.
Huron County has been subject to plenty of these tax tribunal lawsuits, as rulings affecting Sigel and Bloomfield townships are currently being appealed.
In June, the tax tribunal ruled that Huron County owed back taxes from 2016 and 2017 at 6% interest, saying that DTE was taxed at a higher rate than agreed upon. That ruling only affects those two townships, with Huron County having to pay back between $60,000 and $70,000 for each of them.
Services that rely on the taxes taken in from the turbines, including Thumb Area Transit, Huron Intermediate School District, the Huron County Road Commission, the senior citizen’s millage, and the veteran’s millage would all be affected if Huron County is ordered to make the repayments to DTE.
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