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December 6, 2012

Newbury selectman courting solar array

Portion of proposed site default on property taxes

(Continued)

The land being pursued for the array is currently zoned under 61A — a state tax exemption in place to support and promote agricultural use. This means that the owners were granted reduced real estate taxes from the town as long as the land was used for agricultural purposes or to generate farming jobs, revenues and food supplies.

But “the reality is that in 2012, the economic model for farming no longer exists in this part of the country and the demands for town services makes it difficult for communities to forego the property tax revenues,” the press release says.

Carri Keville of the Newbury assessors office said that currently, the state has made no official determination whether a property can remain in 61A if a change of use from farming to solar occurs.

But Keville said any change of use is in itself a cause for removal from the state tax shelter.

“However many acres are changed would be the acres removed,” she said. A penalty tax with interest and fees would be required at the time of conveyance.

Under the agreement being pursued with Borrego Solar, at the end of the 20-year lease term, the array will be removed and the land returned to its original condition. The current owners or their successors will retain ownership of the property. The press release also says there are no environment risks or toxic materials associated with the project and that it doesn’t create impervious surfaces or impact the water table.

When reached yesterday, Bob O’Brien, managing director of American Renewable Energy & Sustainability Solutions of Newburyport (AmRESS), said he was reluctant to provide copies of the lease because it was a private agreement between the landowners and Borrego Solar. AmRESS assists municipalities and businesses in evaluating and implementing renewable energy projects.

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