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Grafton study committee: wind farm economic package benefits wealthy

By   /   November 2, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo courtesy Grafton Woodlands Group

IS IT WORTH IT? Protesters in Vermont have noted that ridgelines can’t be restored after developers build wind energy plants, and now residents of Grafton must decide whether an economic package Iberdrola has promised to full-time residents is worth the loss of their pristine environment.

 

An economic committee in Grafton has analyzed supposed benefits of the Stiles Brook Wind Project and concluded that many residents will see no tax benefits, but ones that do typically have properties assessed at $300,000 or above.

“Over 66% of any tax relief will be attributable to properties assessed at $300,000 or above, based upon the current Grafton Grand List, although these properties make up only 33% of total properties,” the report states.

Courtesy of economic committee of the Grafton Selectboard

The four-member committee, made up of John Turner, Bob Donald, Hardy Merrill and Pieter van der Made, was tasked with examining the 24-turbine wind energy project’s potential impact on municipal property taxes, property values, jobs, and related economic impacts.

Committee members found that certain combinations of household income and property values “will see no tax benefit because of the tax adjustments (rebates).” The group also concluded that the $428 direct payments promised to voters will be taxed, making the number lower than advertised.

Avangrid Renewables LLC — better known as Iberdrola — is offering more than $14 million to Grafton and neighboring Windham. Payments would be paid out over 25 years to full-time residents of the two communities, which are set to vote on the wind project Nov. 8.

This committee examined the tax impact for homeowners based on their home values combined with various income levels. For example, for homeowners of a home valued at $200,000, families making between $50,000 to $110,000 get a savings of $288.56 per month. However, homeowners with homes valued at $200,000 while making only $47,000 will reap a savings of  $112.66, and those making $40,000 or less will see no economic benefit.

Courtesy of economic committee of the Grafton Selectboard

The pattern is the same for other home values. For a $150,000 home, those with incomes of over $40,000 a year will see a savings of around $200 annually; anyone making around $30,000 or less reap no benefit.

According to the report, those who file successfully with the state for a homestead declaration — which makes property tax breaks from the state available based on income — are not eligible for money from Avangrid.

The committee worked on the report for more than 10 weeks, with input from Avangrid representatives, state Tax Department officials, and representatives from other communities with existing industrial wind projects.

The calculations to measure the economic impact for home owners were based on a 0.6354 municipal tax rate and an education tax rate of 1.2081.

The study also gave insight into the potential employment boost from the project as well as potential impact on property values. Regarding the job opportunities, it doesn’t look promising.

“Conversations with other towns that have experienced industrial wind construction have not noted any significant impact on local employment opportunities from such projects,” the report states.

The committee could not quantify the potential impacts on Windham’s tourism industry, but nevertheless found that the project “would not result in a positive economic impact for our community.”

Regarding the turbines’ impact on property values, while members said studies “were not consistent,” they did see impact for homes existing nearest to turbines.

For instance, one study by the School of Business at Clarkson University examined distance of homes from turbines and concluded that “nearby wind facilities significantly reduce property values.”

Another study, conducted by TPW Real Estate agent and town lister Allison Cummings  found the volume of sales for Windham and Grafton sharply dropped off since the turbines have been announced. That study, which examined residential home sales for Jamaica, Londonderry, Townshend, Windham and Grafton for 2011-2016, notes that towns farther away from the proposed wind farm saw little or no change.

The report also notes that Avangrid has no credit rating, “which means that the security of future Iberdrola payments cannot be established.” Avangrid was contacted on this matter and has yet to respond.

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Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for Vermont Watchdog. A Seton Hall 2005 graduate, Bielawski has been writing articles for various publications in and around New York City; Seoul, South Korea; and Vermont. He’s a writer for the Hardwick Gazette, keeping track of rising school budgets and rural Vermont issues. He likes to write about energy and the environment, looking for angles not seen in mainstream media. At home, he’s busy looking after two little boys. During free time, he loves to watch Stanley Kubrick films on Netflix.