Editorial: State assessment rate for wind turbines should boost development

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Important legislation that equitably opens the door to wind farms in Illinois awaits Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s signature. He should sign HB 664, or at least the portion of it that sets tax assessments for wind farms (other provisions were added by the House).

The legislation passed the Senate (53-0) and the House (100-6) last week. Local legislators supported the measure that sets an assessment rate for wind farm turbines at $9,000 per megawatt.

Currently, counties are left to sort out assessments for wind turbines without guidance. Wind turbines are not in the state’s assessment manual, which county assessors use to set property values.

State Rep. Don Moffitt, a lead sponsor of the legislation, says the bill would create a level playing field for all Illinois counties in assessing wind farms. Without a state assessment, competition could push counties to drop assessments too low in an effort to lure wind farms. Wind farms, which are part of the state’s renewable energy requirement for power companies, can provide more local tax money, especially for schools.

Moffitt says the assessment rate of $9,000 per megawatt is a good compromise, although not all companies will agree. It makes Illinois competitive with other states. Illinois is ranked 16th nationally in wind energy potential.

That potential reaches Knox County. In June, Invenergy, a Chicago-based wind energy company, announced plans for a wind farm in Knox County that would build 226 turbines, each costing about $1.6 million. The Pilot Knob Wind Energy Center is expected to generate enough electricity for 133,000 homes. Over time the investment locally is estimated at $800 million.

Moffitt maintains that wind energy developers have been hesitant to build in Illinois because the assessment rate was unknown. This opens the door, according to Moffitt.

Local farmland owners stand to gain from wind farms by leasing the land to developers for the wind turbines. The companies are paying from $4,000 to $8,000 to lease enough land for each turbine. The turbines will reach 405 feet and, along with an access road, take up about one-third of an acre.

One concern for landowners has not been addressed by the state. Landowners are liable for tax payments unless otherwise stipulated in the contract with wind energy companies.

In June, Chris Gray, chief deputy in the Knox County Supervisor of Assessments office, said separating the tax for the turbine and access road from the rest of the land is possible, but the county has not researched it. If the taxes are not separated, landowners will have to pay, whether or not the wind company reimburses them. Invenergy representatives assured landowners in June they would be reimbursed. At this stage it is important for local landowners to include language in their contracts that will guarantee reimbursement.

In the meantime, having a uniform assessment rate for wind turbines should soon set the turbines in motion across Illinois.

The Register-Mail, Galesburg