Saturday, December 7, 2013
Maine voters have heard a lot lately about Angus King's time as governor, whether from anti-King television ads or from his supporters.
Michael Fisher/Staff Illustration/Images by John Ewing/Staff Photographer and Shutterstock.com
They will soon get an earful about his recent career as a wind power entrepreneur, too.
Maine Republicans have been turning up their criticism of the independent Senate candidate as a politically-connected wind farm developer who profited from the same federal loan program that supported Solyndra, a bankrupt solar energy company that has become a buzzword in the GOP campaign against President Obama.
Republican Charlie Summers' Senate campaign used a recent poll to test the views of voters on wind power and federal subsidies, an indicator of what will be targeted in future ads and news releases.
And a national GOP insider wrote in The Washington Post two weeks ago that King's wind career is the next line of attack against the frontrunner.
"In addition to being the 'King of Spending,' look for Republicans to crown the former governor as the 'King of Wind' and the 'King of Cronyism,' " Marc Thiessen wrote in a column about the Maine race.
Republican criticism of the wind deal comes as no surprise, though it's not clear how much turbulence it could create for for King.
There are impassioned wind power critics around the state who could be motivated to vote against King on that issue alone. On the other hand, Mainers in general like wind power and support government incentives for renewable energy, according to a June poll by the Portland Press Herald.
TAX BILLS LOWERED BY 59 PERCENT
In fact, support is especially enthusiastic right now in the community around King's wind turbines.
The roughly 400 residents in the Oxford County town of Roxbury got new tax bills in August that are 59 percent lower than their last bills, the direct result of the $120 million Record Hill wind project developed there by King's former company. The project created an instant commercial tax base for the town and reduced the tax rate from $16.86 per thousand dollars of property value to $6.93.
Each Roxbury household is also receiving a $111 check from the company every three months to cover the cost of electricity as a way to provide a state-mandated "tangible benefit" to the community. The amount of the checks will change as the electricity price goes up and down.
Town Clerk Renee Hodsdon said she has never seen such big smiles on people coming in to pay their taxes.
"It's awesome. There's no word for it, really," said Hodsdon. "(Much) of our population is on fixed incomes. This is a great help to them."
King and his former partner at Independence Wind say the tax relief and quarterly checks are two examples of the project fulfilling the promises made during the long and contentious development process.
The town of Roxbury narrowly voted in favor of allowing the wind project before opponents challenged the project in court. Independence Wind eventually prevailed and the 22 ridge-top turbines began operating in March. King clearly made some enemies in the process, and the tax relief hasn't appeased everyone.
"I think a lot of people when they saw these things go up were just shocked, speechless at the impact these things have had on the landscape," said Steve Thurston, a part-time Roxbury residents and co-chair of the Citizens Task Force on Windpower. "To the people that voted for it, he's wearing a white hat and to the people that opposed this project, he's a bad guy."
Thurston said a portion of the tax benefits won't last because the town's new commercial tax base will eventually mean less education funding from the state and a bigger share of the county tax bill.
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