County indispute over wind park

COOS COUNTY – The owner of the Granite Reliable Power wind park is disputing its 2013 payment in lieu of taxes to Coos County for the 99-megawatt wind farm.
Brookfield Renewable Energy Group, which holds a majority interest in the wind park, made a $249,175 payment to the county for 2013. The Coos commissioners, however, argue under the agreement signed with the county in March 2008 the payment should be $495,000.
"They're in clear violation of the PILOT agreement that was negotiated in good faith, " said Commissioner Paul Grenier. "They're trying to back out of their PILOT agreement."
Commission Chair Tom Brady said the agreement developed out of many discussions with Granite Reliable Power officials. He and Grenier noted the commission had the agreement reviewed by legal counsel and the state Department of Revenue Administration before signing it. It was also approved by the county delegation.
"I think the county has a very good leg to stand on here," said Brady.
County Administrator Jennifer Fish said Brookfield has until Feb. 1 to make full payment. After that, she said the county will seek a tax lien against the wind park.
The dispute centers on how the payment is determined for the wind park, which largely falls within the unincorporated places of Dixville and Millsfield.
County officials argue the agreement sets a payment of $5,000 per megawatt of installed capacity. For the 99-megawatt facility, that figure would be $495,000, which is what Brookfield paid in 2012.
But Brookfield is arguing the PILOT payment is based on what Granite Reliable Power is permitted to produce. The company said ISO-New England, which manages the power grid, curtailed its output to 45.835 megawatts. At $5,000 per megawatt, Brookfield said it owes the county $249,175 for its 2013 PILOT.
"Brookfield will continue its attempts to resolve this issue with the County. We believe that the payment due under the PILOT is directly tied to the amount of electricity we are permitted to produce. Unfortunately, the Granite project has been often curtailed at the direction of the New England ISO. For an explanation about curtailment orders, please contact ISO-New England," said Brookfield spokeswoman Joanne Walsh.
The language in the 23-page agreement reads: "GRP, its successors and assigns, shall make payment to the county in lieu of taxes annually on or before February 1 following the date of first commercial operation .... and each February 1 thereafter for the term of this agreement, in an amount totaling $5,000 per each megawatt of installed capacity, which shall mean the maximum capacity, in megawatts, of the wind turbine generators constituting the facility that are actually installed and either (i) generating energy, of (ii) capable of generating energy and permitted to generate energy as required by applicable law."
The agreement is for ten years and can be extended for a second ten-year term. At the end of the first ten years, the agreement states the parties can further negotiate the amount of the PILOT at that time.
Coos Treasurer Fred King and Attorney Dough Patch, representing Granite Reliable Power, negotiated the PILOT agreement, starting back in 2007.Brady noted Granite Reliable Power sought such an agreement because it wanted to have all its costs fixed as it went for financing.
The commissioners indicated they are prepared to defend the county's position legally. Brady suggested the budgets for the two unincorporated places be adjusted to provide funding for legal fees.
Grenier, who also is mayor of Berlin, said the dispute between the county and Brookfield is part of a pattern of large utilities challenging property tax payments. He said the utilities are using their financial resources to force small communities to settle for less than full valuation.