PULASKI — The Oswego County Legislature adopted a policy Thursday denying property tax breaks for large wind energy projects.
Under the policy, the county Legislature requires any payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement for wind energy production projects with a rated capacity of 25 Megawatts or more to be equal to the property tax payments the county would have received in the absence of exemptions.
Legislators enacted the policy in response to the proposed Mad River Wind Farm, which if realized would construct up to 125 wind turbines in the Oswego County town of Redfield and the town of Worth in Jefferson County. According to project developer Avangrid Renewables, the project area encompasses nearly 30 square miles in the towns of Redfield and Worth along the border of Lewis County.
Legislator Shawn Doyle, R-Pulaski, said the policy mirrors one adopted by Jefferson County and would put Oswego County on the “same footing” during negotiations with Avangrid.
One major difference, Doyle explained, was that Jefferson County isn’t home to any nuclear power plants and the Oswego County policy includes language to reflect that difference.
The policy is focused specifically on large wind projects, which Doyle said “already are given large subsidies through the federal and state government.”
“It’s just taking a line, setting a policy in line with Jefferson County saying ‘we’re not going to give any tax breaks for this,’ because you’re coming to us with many tax breaks,” Doyle said.
The reason the county typically negotiates PILOT agreements with large companies is because they bring jobs to the area, Doyle said. He said large wind projects “offer quick construction jobs,” but don’t create a significant number of permanent jobs.
Avangrid — a part of Spain-based utility company Iberdrola Group — says the project would employ 350 temporary construction workers and create about 20 permanent full-time jobs.
Doyle said he’s not against wind power, but in the case of the Mad River Wind Farm “industrial wind is going to supplant a beautiful environmental asset” in the north Redfield woods.
“These (wind towers) that they’re proposing to build in the town of Redfield are going to be the largest, the tallest this side of the Mississippi River,” Doyle said, adding that the project would disturb one of the county’s “most rural, beautiful” areas in northern Redfield.
Legislator Tom Drumm, D-Oswego, said there was “bipartisan support” specifically against the Mad River Wind Farm, but expressed concern that the county “was setting a tone” on wind energy.
“This seems to put us as an anti-wind county,” he said.
Drumm said the policy seemed “rushed” and lamented the fact that some legislators didn’t see the policy until minutes before Thursday’s meeting. Drumm urged legislators to send the policy back to committee, a motion that ultimately failed after receiving no support from Republican legislators.
Minority Leader Frank Castiglia, D-Fulton, said Democratic legislators weren’t necessarily against the policy, but were opposed to making a quick decision on the matter.
“What we are against is the fact these items were brought to us 20 minutes before the meeting and we’re supposed to make a decision on it,” Castiglia said. “Let’s look at it a little bit deeper. That’s all we’re asking.”
Castiglia said Doyle “brought a wonderful case,” but argued it should have been brought in committee.
Doyle apologized for the procedure, conceding the policy was somewhat rushed after a canceled committee meeting last week. But he said the policy should be pushed through quickly because legislators need “to be on the same page with our peers Jefferson County.”
“This puts us in the driver’s seat together,” Doyle said. “We have to have a policy in place in case they file their paperwork and we have to respond.”
Avangrid states the wind farm would provide about $60 million in tax payments to local municipalities and school districts over 30 years, but company representatives could not be reached Friday and it’s unclear if that figure anticipated PILOT agreements and property tax reductions from local taxing jurisdictions.
The County of Oswego Industrial Development Agency (IDA) typically negotiates PILOT agreements with companies with some involvement from affected municipalities and taxing jurisdictions, Legislature Chairman Kevin Gardner, R-New Haven, said.
Gardner said the IDA has the authority to grant PILOT agreements without approval from the county Legislature, and the policy adopted Thursday is a step toward giving legislators more control over PILOT agreements.
“It’s a very large project and we want to make sure we have a voice in the PILOT,” Gardner said.
County Administrator Phil Church said the county “would be looking for the IDA to follow suit on the county policy,” and noted the IDA board is appointed by the county Legislature.
Church said the policy could potentially be overridden in the future if legislators decide to change course, and added that even if the policy were adopted into law it could still be overridden with additional hurdles.
Avangrid plans to host a series of public information sessions on the Mad River Wind Farm next month, including at the Redfield Fire Hall, located at 4879 county Route 17, Sept. 21 from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.