Town Meeting articles could regulate renewable energy projects

Jun 8, 2021

Two articles related to future solar projects in Wareham will come before voters during the Town Meeting on June 12. 

Voters will be asked to approve a commercial solar/wind taxation home rule petition for Wareham (Article 6). Town Meeting attendees will also be asked to weigh in on a solar PILOT agreement with Borrego for the company’s proposed solar fields (Article 7). 

Both articles were proposed by the town’s Director of Assessing, Jacqui Nichols.

Commercial solar/wind taxation home rule 

A commercial solar/wind taxation home rule would ensure that all future solar and wind projects in town are taxable, according to Nichols’ presentation of the warrant article in March. 

Ultimately, Nichols explained that the commercial home rule would ensure a group proposing a project cannot go before the state appellate tax board and ask that the project be declared exempt from taxes based on rules created in the 70s. 

She fears that what she described as an “outdated interpretation of the rules” by the state’s appellate tax board could cost the town revenue. 

Approval of the article at Town Meeting wouldn’t enact the solar/wind taxation home rule. Instead, it would allow the town to petition the state legislature to create the law. Nichols said there was precedent for such action, and noted that Wareham was following Mattapoisett’s lead.

Borrego PILOT agreement

A solar PILOT agreement with Borrego for the company’s proposed solar fields at 140 Tihonet Rd., 150 Tihonet Rd. and 27 Charge Pond Rd. will also come before voters at Town Meeting. 

PILOT, which stands for Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, is a financial program where towns will give the solar companies a required payment plan. That way, the town will know what to expect for tax revenue, and the solar companies will understand their future burden. The payments are based on personal property value. 

The language used in the agreement with Borrego is nearly the same as language used in previous PILOT agreements, according to Nichols. Because the town does not yet have the commercial solar taxation home rule, Nichols said, PILOT programs are how the town ensures it is compensated for solar projects.

All three Borrego solar projects have been approved by the town, but may require approval from a state environmental board.

If the home rule petition is enacted by the state legislature, future solar field proposals would not require the negotiation of these PILOT agreements. The PILOT agreements work as a piecemeal method to tax solar fields, which the home rule petition would replace with a system like that for taxing any other kind of property.

If the PILOT agreement with Borrego is not approved, it will not stop the projects from going forward. But it could mean that the town might receive less funding in the future because the town would be left open to “valuation litigation,” according to Nichols.