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Battle over Idaho wind energy tax break expected

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A tax break for producers of alternative energy that's up for renewal this year will face opposition from a group that says residents near wind farms aren't being treated fairly.




Idahoans for Responsible Wind Energy want lawmakers this legislative session to make sure residents get adequate notice and fair consideration when it comes to wind farms that influence property values and quality of life.




"It's not just the visual impact," said Maureen Finnerty, a spokeswoman for the group. "It's about the money and whose wallet it's in."




The 2005 law that allows a 6 percent sales tax rebate sunsets this year. Developers of renewable energy say the rebate is needed to develop power that creates jobs and brings in tax money for counties and schools.




"This will be one of the big fights of this session," Roy Eiguren, an Idaho energy lobbyist representing wind developers, told the Idaho Statesman.




Wind energy in Idaho produced about 300 kilowatts in 2005. At the end of this year renewable power generation, mainly from wind, is expected to reach 544 megawatts.




Continuation of the rebate is also backed by groups seeking to develop biomass energy: dairy farmers, the Idaho Cattle Association, the Idaho Farm Bureau and Adams County.




Others wanting to see the rebate remain in place are landfill power developers, solar power developers and Micron's Transform Solar offshoot.




Wind farm developers say the 6 percent rebate is crucial.




"Our return on one of these projects is a half or less than the sales tax itself," said James Carkulis, CEO of Boise-based Exergy. "The margins are that tight."




Finnerty said she became involved after 95 wind turbines went up on a ridge behind her house.




"When these first went up I told myself, 'I'm going to ignore these things because I don't want them to impact my mental quality of life,'" Finnerty said. "Then I decided that's not right for me or for the state."




Finnerty said she wants to make sure counties and schools are getting their fair share, and won't rule out a moratorium on wind farms if the group's concerns aren't addressed.




"I would prefer for the two sides to get together to work things out," said Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls. "It's obvious citizens in eastern Idaho are frustrated by the siting and lack of notification for wind turbines."




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Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com




Copyright 2011 The AP.



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