By Bill Trotter | Bangor Daily News | April 8, 2021
For nearly two decades, commercial wind farms have been touted in Maine as a way to generate electricity without pollution, and as a way rural locales in Maine can generate revenue for themselves by hosting turbines worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
But several counties and towns are finding out they are getting less revenue out of the wind projects than they had expected when they were wooed in the 2000s and 2010s by developers looking to erect turbines several hundred feet tall along local remote, elevated ridgelines. In some cases, the developers are arguing that recent advancements in wind turbine technology have made newer models so efficient that older, less efficient turbines erected nearly a decade or more ago have lost much of their taxable value.
In Franklin County, Maine Revenue Services granted a tax abatement on the Kibby Wind Power project that last month forced county officials to return $187,844 in tax-increment financing, or TIF, payments to Helix Maine Wind, which owns the 44-turbine wind farm.
In Hancock County, state officials granted an abatement to another wind farm, TerraForm-owned Bull Hill Wind, that is forcing the county to return $17,342 it had received in TIF payments last year for the 19 turbines erected in that county’s unorganized territory in 2012.
In Kingsbury Plantation in Piscataquis County, local officials agreed to reduce taxes on part of the Bingham Wind project by $23,000 for three years in a row, from 2018 through 2020. The firm that currently owns and operates the wind farm also sought and was granted a tax abatement in the nearby Somerset County town of Bingham, where 11 of Bingham Wind’s 56 turbines were erected in 2016.
In counties that have TIF agreements with wind farm operators in their unorganized territory, all the tax revenue generated off the turbines and related equipment – which normally would be kept by the state – is divided between the developer and the county by percentages that often change over the 30-year term of the agreement.
Somerset County officials were disappointed enough in the revenue they were getting through their TIF agreement from Bingham Wind, which includes 24 turbines in that county’s unorganized territory, that in 2017 they filed a Freedom of Access Act request with Maine Revenue Services to try to find out how the state determined its valuation for the development, which the state agency does for all development projects in Maine’s unorganized territory.
Maine Revenue Services denied the request, saying that the information was proprietary to the developer, according to David Spencer, Somerset County’s UT coordinator. The county took the case to court in an attempt to force the state to disclose its formula, but lost the case.
“We never got permission to see how the state’s value was established,” Spencer said, adding that the county was opposed to the project but pursued a TIF agreement with the developer anyway, figuring some revenue out of it would be better than nothing.
“When we finally got the checks, they didn’t live up to what we had been told we would get,” Spencer said. “Plus, the turbines are an eyesore.”...................
................Stacey Fitts, Maine asset manager for Onward, said Wednesday he could not comment on whatever Somerset County’s TIF revenue expectations may have been in 2016, because the county negotiated that agreement with now-defunct SunEdison. He said Onward reached “amicable” valuation settlements with Kingsbury and Bingham after the firm questioned the methodology the two municipalities used to determine the value of the turbines.................
................Scott Adkins, Hancock County’s administrator, said after the meeting that such a quick depreciation in value for the turbines “worries me.” If the equipment continues to rapidly become obsolete, the county’s TIF revenue also could rapidly shrink, he said.
He said state officials have suggested they might change their valuation method to base their estimates on income, rather than the market price of the equipment being used. If this happens, and if the turbines become so obsolete that TerraForm decides to shut them down, they wouldn’t generate any income at all, which could result in the county getting no TIF funds out of the facility.....................
...................TerraForm officials also did not respond Wednesday to an emailed request for comment. In addition to Bull Hill, TerraForm also owns and operates wind farms in the Aroostook County town of Mars Hill, the neighboring Penobscot County towns of Lincoln and Lee, and at Stetson Mountain in Washington County, but local officials said this week they have not been notified of any abatement requests in connection with those developments.
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By Tux Turkel, Staff Writer | Portland Press Herald | April 7
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