The Real Cost of Turbine Savings

Recently, Ariel Wittenberg reported that the industrial wind turbines in Fairhaven saved the town $45,000. She quoted Jeffrey Osuch, the town secretary, who conspired with Sumul Shah, to perpetrate this swindle, that “…we are a little lower than we would expect…” Actually, this rate is $20,000 less than the very minimum annual rate Osuch projected at Town Meeting, and $320,000 less than the maximum. Wittenberg, as she often seems to do, failed to tell the rest of the story. Fairhaven taxpayers will quietly lose millions from declining property value and the inevitable erosion of the tax base it will cause.

In sworn testimony to the Adams County Board in Illinois, Michael S. McCann, a state certified property appraiser, who has studied the impact of turbines on property value across the country; reported that the value of properties within two miles of industrial turbines will decline by 25% to 40%. The homes closest to turbines often become unsellable at any price. (His complete testimony is online.) In light of this, take a moment to consider the real fiscal impact that this scheme Osuch has concocted will have in Fairhaven.

Due to his thoughtful planning, these turbines are located very close to the geographic center of the town. Google Earth shows that a two mile radius includes roughly 90% of all the homes in Fairhaven, excluding only the more sparsely populated lower half of Sconticut Neck and West Island. A conservative estimate of, say, a 30% loss for a home valued at $250,000 dollars, is a net loss of $75,000 in equity. This is a loss of years of accumulated equity for home values already depressed by the most adverse housing market in decades.

Based on this flagrant destruction of their property value, taxpayers in Fairhaven who live within two miles of these turbines are eligible for tax abatement, and I strongly urge them to apply for one. If residents are given the abatement they legitimately deserve, one can reasonably expect the tax base to be eroded by about 27% overall. This would be loss of millions on the tax levy, harming even the lucky few who live far enough away from turbine ground zero. You can multiply this annual loss by 20, since Shah’s lease is for 20 years.

This loss will not include the costs to process mass tax abatement or the potential legal costs to all parties if legitimate abatements are denied. More importantly, it does not include the incalculable impact to the health and safety of residents and the legal liabilities for them, which will fall exclusively on the town as public health deteriorates.

The turbine manufacturer, Sinovel, is Chinese; it has proven to be judgment-proof in U.S. courts. Fairhaven Wind, LLC is a limited liability corporation. This is a corporate legal architecture designed to fold like a cheap suit at the first sign of trouble. That will leave only the Town of Fairhaven to face the music. Taxpayers will lose again. If the town loses the existing suit, brought by the residents of Little Bay for illegally siting these turbines; it will become a sitting duck for health liability suits.

And now for what Paul Harvey famously called, “the rest of the story”. If you assume that Fairhaven was actually purchasing $180,000 worth of power this year at Shah’s rate of 7.43 cents per kWH, you would discover that the same power could have been purchased at the NSTAR, at the small commercial rate of 6.686 cents. The town would have saved an additional $16,000 per year. You can see for yourself at the  NSTAR calculator online. In other words, the Town of Fairhaven is being gouged by its own tenant, its own cohort.

Now that you now the rest of Wittenberg’s story, feel free to celebrate the pure fiscal genius that Jeff Osuch has brought to Fairhaven this summer, and for the next 20 years. Perhaps Osuch, in his uniquely soporific style, will provide us with a more detailed and complete accounting of the true fiscal impact at Town Meeting this spring—but you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting.

In the meantime, if you are trying to sell your home, and the market analysis for it turns out to be 30% or 40% lower than you expected, you will know who to thank for all your summer savings. We are now living in what Stephen Ambrose has termed a Public Health Sacrifice Zone.

Curt Devlin, Fairhaven, MA

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