Cohocton Wind Watch: Pattern Energy seeks tax break from Yates County
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pattern Energy seeks tax break from Yates County

Italy, N.Y.

John Hood of Nixon and Peabody Law Firm and Andy Hunt, a principal with Pattern Energy (formerly Ecogen LLC) attended the Sept.16 meeting of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (FLEDC) at the request of CEO Steve Griffin.

After receiving phone calls from the law firm, asking for incentives, Griffin asked them to come to explain to the board what they are seeking — an agreement similar to the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) negotiated with Steuben County.

The wind energy company has been involved with a controversial battle with the Town of Italy over the construction and use of 19 wind turbines on Emerson and Clute Roads.

“A project like this is not without controversy. We are looking to bring energy to the state. The cable is all underground and our development team here has a vast experience in such projects through-out the United States,” Hunt explained.

Most of the project, which will ultimately include around 34 turbines, is in the town of Prattsburgh in Steuben County. Steuben County Industrial Development Agency (SCIDA) is the lead agency and the paperwork there was completed in January for a PILOT. Steuben did the entire State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), even the Yates County portion, which Hood said is not unusual for a project of this scope.

When asked why they had not come before, Hood replied that Ecogen was waiting until Italy approvals were in place (See related story). He said an exemption is standard procedure. “Any wind project in New York State has a PILOT,” Hood said. Much of the construction is already exempt from sales tax, according to Hood.

“Financing is complex in order to satisfy many interests administratively. It is important to have it in place,” Hunt said.

According to the presenters the project in Yates County will cost $78 million. An estimated 75-100 construction workers will be involved and 4-8 local employees will be needed to maintain the turbines.

The company is requesting to pay $8373 per megawatt produced to Yates County instead of paying regular real property taxes for 20 years. Hunt said it is hard to figure what part of the project is subject to property tax. After 20 years the payments would progress. When questioned, Hood said the $8373 would be paid even if the company was not selling power or if the turbine was out of service.

A controversy in Steuben County evolved over how the PILOT payments would be split. Hunt said the payments are usually divided between the county, schools and towns. He said he thought this had finally been worked out in Steuben.

Taylor Fitch, Yates County Legislator from Jerusalem, asked if at the end of 20 years the turbines would go onto the tax rolls. Hunt said they would, but that it is hard to predict what the assessment value would be after that time. Hood agreed it’s hard to predict, but said the company will re-equip and maintain the turbines. He added they will be paying New York State income tax.

In conclusion, Hood said, “We realize you can’t do anything until things are approved by the town.” Hunt told the board they just want to get things started because it takes a long time.

Fitch said, “If you get town approval, I am sure you will get a lawsuit from the other side.”

FLEDC Board Member Jerry Hiller asked about clean-up funds and if they would have a decommissioning reserve. Hunt said it wasn’t required, but they would deal with it. Hood added that he wasn’t familiar with this, but that there would be a bond.

When asked about an amenities package for Italy, Hunt said he was not sure about one. Fitch held up copy and replied, “We have one right here.”

Italy resident Brad Jones spoke for the opposition, saying the wind farm project is greatly opposed in the town. Jones, who is seeking election to the Italy Supervisor’s position, has done a great deal of research and has spoken to groups throughout the state opposing wind farms.

He cited a new 78-page study he had received the previous night on the harmful effects of wind farms in Wisconsin. Homes in these areas suffered a 40 percent loss in value he said.

Griffin said to the board members that Ecogen was asking FLEDC to hold a public hearing. Board members expressed their opinions.

Hiller said, “We don’t want to be embroiled in litigation. Our reputation is valuable.” He also would like more information, including the complete SEQR application.

Fitch said, “I don’t want us to appear to be in charge of the Town of Italy. I would want us to set a public hearing after Italy has their meetings.”

Audience member Vince Johnson, who said he had served on the Italy Planning Board for several years, said the board should be aware that Ecogen might be wanting to push the project along before the November election, because Jones is running for Italy Town Supervisor.

FLEDC Chairman Kevin Bailey said the board would wait for more information before scheduling a public hearing.

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