Antrim has shelled out $100,000 to cover wind energy legal fees

The town of Antrim has spent more than $100,000 in administrative and legal fees for the nine-turbine wind project slated to be built on Tuttle Hill and span to the north flank of Willard Mountain.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about legal fees to support the project, especially in the last crediting phase, which I think was more than any of us saw coming in 2011 when the original agreement was signed between Antrim Wind,” the town’s legal counsel Justin Richardson said during a regular Select Board meeting Monday night.

Antrim Wind Energy, whose parent company is Walden Green Energy, said it has already poured millions into the project, which was approved by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee late last year after it was dragged through seven years of discussion.

The company has not yet broken ground, according to Jack Kenworthy, head of development at Walden Green Energy, although it plans to do so in the second or third quarter of 2017. Kenworthy said the project should be operational by Dec. 31, 2018, which was mapped out in a PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, agreement back in June 2013.

On Monday, Antrim Wind Energy asked Selectmen to consider extending the project’s construction date until the end of 2019, a decision that was tabled to a later meeting. 

If the requested extension is granted, Antrim Wind would pay the town an additional $50,000, unless the project is constructed and operational by 2018. Antrim Wind has already agreed to pay the town $50,000 after completion of the project. 

“For us, it provides some headroom,” Kenworthy said about the possible extension. “We still expect to make a 12/31/2018 COD (commercial operation date). It’s certainly our goal and our target. But it would be helpful in the event that something unforeseen happened that we would have more time.”

Kenworthy told the Select Board that he believes an extension would benefit both parties.

Selectman Mike Genest said he would like the offer to be enhanced due to the costs the town has had to shell out as a result of the company’s proposal. He said Antrim Wind should pay $100,000 upon completion, and $50,000 if construction continues beyond its Dec. 31, 2018 target date. Those figures, he said, would recoup the majority of the town’s costs.

“I think it’s important that the town gets those legal costs back that they have invested into this project,” Genest said.

Kenworthy argued that once the project is online and generating revenue, the town will benefit from the project and therefore should not be responsible for covering all of the town’s costs.

“We don’t expect you or anybody to spend all of it,” Selectman Bob Edwards said during the meeting. “But I think there’s a comfortable ratio between you doing a commercial venture that has long-term benefits to you and long-term benefits to us.”

Edwards said he believes the company should cover about 85-percent of the town’s costs, while the town could pick up the other 15-percent.

Chair John Robertson and Edwards expressed approval for Genest’s proposal, but suggested the board mull the agreement over in another meeting to further iron out all of the details. Genest said he did not need more time to think the matter over.

Once the counter offer has been buttoned up, the board will have to hold a public hearing in order to gather opinions about the possible extension to its PILOT agreement. 

Kenworthy said the company will consider the town’s proposals, although he did not say whether the company would accept or not.

“From our perspective, because this is something nice to have and not a need to have, there is certainly a limit to what we think is rational to offer to pay for it, which is the offer that we have made to you,” Kenworthy said.

As the conversation evolves it will become clear whether the board’s higher offer is worth it to the company, which could shed light on how reasonable the company believes completing the project by December 2018.

GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. also presented a summary of the company’s decommissioning plan and cost estimates that were prepared by Antrim Wind during the meeting.

GZA estimated that decommissioning the project would cost $3.158 million. Antrim Wind has estimated the costs to be about $2.775 million.

“In general we feel like this estimate would cover the town in case they have to step in and take over (during decommissioning),” John Murphy, a senior principal at GZA, said about its estimate.

Murphy said one thing that number doesn’t take into consideration is salvage material costs, which the town would have access to in the event that Antrim Wind was no longer around to decommission the project. He told the board that salvage costs have not been defined. Kenworthy said the number should be taken into consideration when thinking about decommissioning costs because the town would have access to those materials. It was brought up during the meeting that the town cannot take salvage costs into consideration based off of state laws.

The board voted to approve GZA’s decommissioning fund estimate during the meeting.

Antrim Select Board will reconvene on Monday, March 6 at 7 p.m.

Source: http://www.ledgertranscript...

MAR 2 2017
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