Wind developers avoid taxes & damage property value

May 2, 2008

—Op-Ed by Boyce Sherwin, MBA

Last week, at the invitation of the group, Keep Burke Beautiful, I made a presentation to the Burke town board on the effects of industrial wind turbines on property values. I discussed, as well, the actual PILOT income to Chateaugay and Bellmont. During my presentation I was heckled by some in the audience.

The heckling continues, recycled in the Malone Telegram (April 30th) in a broadside by one, Keith E. Trudeau.  In his letter (click here) Mr. Trudeau does, I grant, get one thing right. He admits that massed, giant wind turbines are in fact industrial development. What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that, while it spreads over tens of thousands of acres, this industry employs only maintenance workers and a few managers. There are no production workers.

Welcome to the Brave New World!

It dawned on me after the meeting that using real numbers (as I did), rather than terms like “lots” or “not much” (as the other side does), is considered, well, cheating.  Nevertheless the responsible question for town and school boards is, “Does the wind developer PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) exceed the cost to the taxpayers?”

Let’s pause for a moment.  Discussions of turbine property value effects have a bizarre, “Emperor’s New Clothes” quality, as proponents insist that hundreds of 400-ft. tall moving machines have no impact on property values. When asked how they can believe such a preposterous statement they sputter and say, “Why, here’s a study that proves it!”

I have read the studies carefully and completely.  They claim much but prove nothing.

There are no decent studies on the value effects of massing wind turbines in residential areas. There is a relevant study from California examining the effect of high tension powerlines on property value. The study shows a 20+% loss of value from powerlines that are less than 1/3 as tall as the turbines, cover much less land, and don’t move.

But then, one doesn’t need to read a study. Just go look. Take a kid along. They seem to notice when the emperor is naked.

What does the PILOT give to Chateaugay? The 74 turbines now planned will pay about 12% of the total real estate tax bill. As for payments to schools, if we value the turbines at $2 million each (which is low), the school board has excused 95% of their taxes. Bellmont is very similar.

So we have an industrial development that covers tens of thousands of acres, provides very few jobs, and pays paltry taxes. The hecklers seem to think we should grovel a little lower and accept whatever the turbine companies offer. In fact, we already do that.

I say it’s time we behaved like adults, stopped pretending the free lunch moved to town, and started caring for our land and our children.

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Mr.  Sherwin, founder of Regional Solutions, is a member of the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency (IDA).