ANTRIM NH - Antrim select board members renegotiated an agreement made between the town and a wind energy company during a public hearing on Monday evening.
The Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, agreement between Antrim Wind Energy LLC — a Delaware limited liability company – and the town went into effect in June of 2013.
The energy company requested to amend the years-old agreement in a bid to extend the commercial operation date from the end of 2018 to the end of 2019, additional time they say it may or may not use to complete the project. The company has offered to make a one-time payment of $125,000 to be paid to the town if the amended agreement is signed.
The town and the energy company have been at the negotiating table for months trying to nail down an agreement for the proposed extension.
But on Monday night, select board members said in addition to the one-time payment of $125,000, it would also like to change verbiage in the PILOT agreement regarding payment of the 20-year operating term. A chart in the agreement shows payments starting to kick in the year 2015, although language above the chart states payments will begin “on April 1 following the commercial operation date” at a starting rate of $11,250 per megawatt of generation capacity. The agreement states the payments will increase by 2.5 percent cumulatively every year of the operating term.
Select board members now want to revise the language so the first payment kicks in during the year the project goes online. That would mean instead of the energy company paying out $11,250 per megawatt during the first year of operation, they would instead pay $12,115 per megawatt in 2018 or $12,418 per megawatt if they started operating in 2019. That change would increase the payments out to the town by about $859,000 over the course of 20 years. The select board deliberated privately with legal counsel near the end of the meeting and instead offered to bring down the payment to $12,000 the first year it goes online.
“This has been a long road for the town,” select board chair Mike Genest said in reference to the proposed 20-year-payment plan. “The town has tried to work with Antrim Wind as best as it could keeping its own interests number one and I think this is a very important interest to the town.”
Select board member Bob Edwards and John Robertson said they agreed with Genest about the potential revisions at various points during the meeting.
“I think it’s our responsibility to make the best deal we can,” Edwards said during the meeting, which is a shift from past comments where he has expressed a desire to recoup town legal and administrative costs that it has sunk into the project while encouraging the company to become commercially operational as quickly as possible.
The changes were met with some frustration from the energy company who have had to shift their construction extension proposal in the past.
“I think that for us, to say it candidly, it feels a little as though the goal posts are being moved,” said Jack Kenworthy, head of development at Walden Green Energy.
Kenworthy said the company would have to crunch the numbers laid out in the board’s newest proposal and said he could get back to them with an answer by the end of this week.
The company could also decide it no longer wants to make amendments to the agreement and the deal would fall through. In that scenario, the company would have to go online by the end of 2018.
About 40 residents packed into the meeting room in the Town Hall on Monday for the public hearing. During the public comment section, people stood up both in opposition and approval of accepting the $125,000 as proposed or further negotiating a 20-year payment plan. The comments largely depended on residents overall feelings about the project.
Barbara Berwick, who is against the project, spoke against accepting the amendment.
“If you are going to take our property, if you’re going to decrease our value, at least make sure that you get the most that the town can,” Berwick said.
Others said the town should accept the amendment as is without renegotiating.
Ben Pratt, who is for the project, spoke in favor of accepting the amendment.
“The scientist who worked on the U.S. position at the Paris climate talks now feel that the world must be prepared to reduce total emissions by 2020,” Pratt said. “That’s less than two and a half years from now. And we are not on course to accomplish that.”
He said projects like Antrim Wind Energy’s nine turbine project would help move the needle towards renewable energies in a move to divest from fossil fuels.
The public hearing regarding the proposed amendment will be extended to a future date that has not yet been set.