Source: Coulter Press
SOLAR BILL SIGNED; DROPS TAX LIMITS
By Ken Cleveland ITEM CORRESPONDENT
The governor last week signed a bill regulating and encouraging solar energy in the state.
Missing from the bill was a provision that set the tax formula for solar installations.
Instead, communities will be able to negotiate their own agreements.
“I’m delighted that the conference committee voted to remove the proposed language,” which would have limited the tax, Bolton Town Administrator Don Lowe said. “It certainly frees cities and towns to negotiate whatever deals are applicable to their communities.”
It also benefits Bolton, where voters at the May town meting approved an agreement that was negotiated between town assessors and project developers Syncarpha Solar and Renewable Energy Massachusetts. The pact was a compromise on the level of assessment for the proposed solar installation at Bolton Orchards.
The tax pact gives the town a 25-year agreement on the value of the installation equipment, generating about $80,000 yearly initially, declining to about $50,000 by the end of the agreement as the equipment ages. Under various tax limiting provisions considered for the bill, the town’s tax revenue for the project could have dropped to about $48,000.
Potential tax revenue could have been $350,000 based on the value of the equipment, but it was acknowledged that rate would doom the project, which was portrayed as having no impact while generating green energy and town revenue.
Although the town has signed the agreement, Syncarpha has not yet, something officials indicate was because the developer was hoping for more favorable language.
The Bolton Orchards project is not the only solar project in the state that has been on hold, even if not officially waiting for the bill’s final language.
Lowe praised the efforts of State Rep. Kate Hogan (D-Stow) and the Massachusetts Municipal Association in pushing for towns to be able to negotiate.
The counter argument for the tax provision, Lowe said, was that some smaller towns might not have the resources to negotiate and the state law would then dictate the level of taxation.
Lowe said Syncarpha is resuming talks with assessors on the estimated tax bill for the first quarter. The tax agreement sets standards of taxation as the project proceeds and over the course of the life of the installation.
“Producing clean energy locally not only frees us from the volatile pricing of conventional generation but also helps the environment,” Governor Deval Patrick said after signing the legislation last Friday. “We can do that at a reasonable cost and this law helps.”
The Massachusetts Municipal Association said the legislation as passed “would preserve the ability of communities to collect property taxes or negotiate a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement on solar and renewable energy facilities.”
Earlier versions of the bill “would have exempted certain renewable energy facilities, including commercial solar facilities, from the local property tax.” Communities would have collected a payment equal to 5 percent of electricity sales.
“In essence, the previous versions of the legislation would have provided developers with a windfall, while reducing revenues that communities collect and use to pay for critical local services,” the MMA statement stated. With no change, municipalities can tax energy installations under standard criteria or negotiate a modified agreement.