Senate backs renewable energy tax deals

The state Senate approved a bill Thursday that would give municipalities the right to negotiate open-ended in-lieu-of-taxes agreements with renewable energy facilities.

Current law limits in-lieu-of-taxes agreements to five years, but those involved in such facilities contend that their financing deals often run much longer than that, so they should be able to negotiate a deal with a town or city to match.

But some senators said that long-term in-lieu-of-tax deals should only be approved by town meeting voters.

Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, for instance, said that it would be a mistake to give a board of selectmen, which sometimes have as few as three members, the power to make long-term commitments. Some of them might be unduly influenced by developers of such products through “golf games, tennis games,” he said, adding, “I don’t believe that two people should make such a decision,” he said.

Five years is one thing, added Bob Clegg, R-Hudson, but “now we are going to be stuck with this forever. We can’t be cutting deals for certain sectors at the expense of the taxpayers and stick them with a bill for the rest of their lives.”

But supporters of the measure worried that some deals can’t wait until the next town meeting.

“Frankly, these plants won’t get built. They are going to go to Maine,” said Peter Burling, D-Cornish. Burling noted that a municipality does have to hold a public hearing before the agreement is voted on.

An amendment to require the town meeting support failed by a vote of 16-8. Senators then voted to pass Senate Bill 99 on to the House by a 17-7 vote. – BOB SANDERS

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