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Politics and other mistakes: Sweet electricity

Annexed electricity
By AL DIAMON  |  January 14, 2009

Harley Lee has a lot to learn about running a scam.

Fortunately for Lee, president of the Yarmouth-based wind-power firm Endless Energy Corp., I'm here to point out the flaws in his little confidence game. Consider it a favor to a friend.

Well, not exactly a friend. I did once threaten to poison his drink. And in a column last summer, I called him "the antibiotic-resistant staph infection of the business world" and said he resembled "a blood-starved tick on a moose's butt."

After that, Lee took to making discreet inquiries as to my whereabouts before daring to slink into Carrabassett Valley to lay the groundwork for his latest scheme to build a 30-turbine wind farm on nearby Black Nubble and Redington mountains.

In spite of those indications of ambivalence, I still feel a bond between us. We have so much in common, like, for instance ... er ... we both eat food.

But back to Lee's current attempt to pull a fast one. He's managed to convince the Carrabassett Valley Board of Selectmen (motto: Do You Mind If We Make A Phone Call To the Folks Who Run Sugarloaf To Find Out What We Think?) to support a bill before the Legislature allowing the town to annex 10,000 acres of unorganized territory on which his wind farm would be situated. That shift to municipal control would remove the property from the authority of the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, which has twice rejected Lee's breezy vision.

If legislators concur, Carrabassett citizens would vote on the annexation (residents of the land to be annexed don't get a say because the majority of them are moose and ticks). If the balloting goes Lee's way, the local planning board could rubber-stamp the wind-farm deal, and the bulldozers would roll next year.

There will, however, be considerable debate in town about the incentives Lee is offering residents such as myself in exchange for our support. And it's here that his inexperience as a flim-flam artist becomes painfully obvious.

In return for permission to construct an unsightly industrial complex on pristine mountain tops in plain sight of skiers on Sugarloaf and hikers on the Appalachian Trail, Lee is proposing something that compares unfavorably with offers I've received in e-mails from the former undersecretary of the Nigerian treasury.

He claims his $180 million project would provide the town with enough new revenue to lower property taxes 21 percent. If the town ever collects. Wind-power projects elsewhere in the state also promised property-tax pots of gold — right up until they won final approval. Then, they applied for tax increment financing (TIF), a state program that allows the owners to keep a significant share of their property taxes. Developers of the Kibby wind farm being constructed in northern Franklin County will save nearly $9 million over 20 years in a deal that will actually raise property taxes for other area residents. A wind farm in Mars Hill has, to date, reduced the tax rate not at all.

Even if there's no TIF, there's no guarantee the extra money will go to tax relief. Carrabassett Selectman Lloyd Cuttler has already sent out an e-mail proposing spending some of the dough the town doesn't yet have "to contribute to specific environmental and scientific programs for school programs within the district." Also, to beef up the Program for Redundancy Program.

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