The Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee took additional testimony, March 24 on SB 232, introduced by Sen. Chris Widener, FAIA which would exempt from taxation renewable energy facilities that are not financed through the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority and require a payment in lieu of taxes on the basis of each megawatt of production capacity in such facilities.
The committee heard from numerous Ohio residents, advocates and Ohio school board associations weighing in on the fiduciary impacts of the legislation and quality of life issues.
First to testify was Economic Development Director Connie Neininger of White County, Indiana, who wanted to offer her perspective on the economic impacts of wind farm development and the financial incentives that were given in her state.
Like the rural areas in Ohio supporting the idea of large-scale wind farm development, White County is also a strong agricultural community with 323,000 acres of land, she said.
In the fall of 2006, she said they had three different wind development companies in the county interested in developing commercial wind farms. As the companies selected locations and constructed their meteorological towers, the economic development office worked with county officials on creating zoning ordinances and gathering data from across the country on wind development procedures. They also hired a legal firm and financial advisors to help analyze the impact of the projects.
Horizon Wind Energy’s Meadow Lake Phase I project – five phases total – consisted of 121/ 1.65 megawatt (MW) turbines for a total nameplate capacity of 200MW. The Phase I project covers approximately 26,000 acres and was constructed at a capital investment of $430 million. The construction began in February 2009 and was complete and brought online in October 2009. Currently, Neininger said, Phase II is now under construction and Phases III and IV are scheduled for later this month. The total project is 600MW and will consist of 350 turbines, which spans approximately 84,000 acres.
Indiana allowed tax abatement on personal and real property for a maximum of 10 years so long as the property is located in an Economic Revitalization Area, which county officials had to create by vote.
Neininger said the project has brought additional commerce to the community, and several hospitality businesses that would have closed remain open. She said the workforce was not all from Indiana because the industry is so specialized.
A coalition of Ohio’s educational advocates testified as interested parties and offered a few concerns to the members to consider as the substitute bill moves forward.
Barbara Shaner, representing the Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO), testified on behalf of the representatives who were present at the hearing from the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA), Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), the Ohio Education Association (OEA), and the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT).
“We understand the desire to promote alternative energy production in Ohio and we want to participate in discussions about the issues and proposals in the bill,” Shaner said. “Because SB232 will have an impact on property tax revenues for local governments and schools, we want to make sure that the local tax dollars invested will result in a good return for Ohio and for the local communities affected.” Based on information from the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) and the original version of the SB232, the organizations submitted an analysis from the Education Tax Policy Institute (ETPI) authored by Bill Driscoll and Dr. Howard Fleeter.
Shaner said that ETPI prepared information from state and national sources on appropriate tax levels for wind development. In addition, they prepared an analysis of the proposed investment in the wind energy projects that are likely to qualify for tax exemption related to the return on investment to local communities, and an analysis of job creation.
Shaner, according to ETPI analysis, also said that the Job and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model would not be an accurate measure if the local property taxes are allowed to be significantly abated. She did say, however, that it is appropriate to use the JEDI model, but that it should not be placed in law as a true measure.
Chairman Widener disputed the information set out in the ETPI and discussed his concerns with Fleeter. He told Widener that he would adjust his analysis to fit the provisions of substitute SB232.
Also testifying were 11 Ohio residents of Logan, Champaign, Van Wert and Richland counties in opposition to the wind turbines, not only on financial impacts, but on the impacts to health, well-being and quality of life. Testifying either in person or by submitting written testimony were Brett Heffner, resident of Van Wert; Tom Stacy and Steve and Mary Mortimer, from Logan County; Wayne Taylor, James Cole, Julie Johnson, Dianne McConnell and Anita Bartlett, from Champaign County; and John Warrington of Tiro.
Gene Poole, of VanWert, said that in his community, Iberdrola, a renewable energy company from Spain is planning to build a large wind farm. He said the problem is that no one has information about the company or its intentions for construction. However the company has offered residents to sign a “Good Neighbor Agreement” under which they would be given $2,000 up front and $1,000 every year thereafter. “Iberdrola denies any negative effects associated with wind turbines, yet they are willing to pay me for my silence should anything negative happen,” said Poole. Poole concluded by stating that Iberdrola is an encroachment, and that granting them a tax abatement under such circumstances would be irresponsible on the part of the Ohio Legislature.
“And any company that truly believes in the authority of its product should never suggest burdening the people’s health and economic welfare as necessary to its survival.”