BRUNSWICK — A Maine court upheld Brunswick’s $200-per-panel tax on solar panels last week after seven Brunswick families challenged it in court.

The families filed a legal challenge early this year arguing that the town placed an arbitrary and unconstitutional taxable value on the panels that will slow down the growth of solar power in town. The group has been fighting the tax for over a year.

Brunswick did not tax solar panels until the town’s revaluation in 2017, according to Brian Marshall an attorney for the families. Since KRT Appraisal, the company conducting the revaluation, had no formula for how solar systems should be valued, then-assessor Cathleen Jamison “decided to impose a $500 per panel assessment on all solar panels within the Town … based solely on ‘online research’ that included no Maine-specific publications,” the brief states.

After some solar panel owners sought abatements, the per-panel assessment was reduced to $200 each. For the seven property owners Marshall is representing, abatements ranged from $82 to $174, The Times Record reported last year.

“It isn’t a lot of money, but it’s the principle of the thing,” said Jake Plante, one of the petitioners. “We knew we had (an) uphill battle … but we made our voices heard and feel it was worth it.”

Because of the July 23 court ruling, the families will not be able to claim their abatements for the last two years – but it’s not all bad news for the property owners or the roughly 130 other homes with solar power in town.

Last month, the Legislature passed An Act to Create Tax Equity Among Renewable Energy Investments, which creates a property tax exemption for solar energy projects. Because of this, while they miss out on the money from the last two years, they will not have to fight this going forward.

“Even though we lost the battle, we won the war,” Plante said, adding that he thought their case may have been somewhat of an impetus for legislators.

Marshall said the bill was a “big victory for solar owners across the state” and while they were disappointed in the ruling, the exemption “took a lot of what was at stake out of the case.”

In the complaint, Plante and the other petitioners argued that the town’s system assessment “was not based on any acceptable assessment methodology,” discriminated against solar panel system owners by applying a flat and uniform rate, discriminated against solar-owners compared to property owners who have made other home energy investments, and that the board’s decision to uphold the tax was “an error of law, an abuse of discretion, and is not based on substantial evidence,” according to court documents.

According to the ruling by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills, “petitioners have challenged only the assessors’ methodology without providing evidence of what the value of the solar panel systems should be,” and “failed to establish unjust discrimination.”

Marshall said in January that there is not enough evidence to support the claim that solar panels add any resale value to a home. “There are a whole host of reasons” to get solar panels, he argued, but home value is not one of them.

The town’s position remained that the assessment was “rational and reasonable,” Town Attorney Stephen Langsdorf said at the time, adding that it was simply a question of following the law, since at the time, Maine had no exemption.

“Applicants are going out of their way to say it was arbitrary,” he said, “when the (assessor) used a value calculator promoted by ReVision Energy on its own website.”

“The argument that they add no value (to a home) is frivolous,” he added. “It’s clear to anyone with common sense that something that is going to reduce the cost of energy is going to be of value.”

Marshall said that in light of the exemption they do not plan on appealing.

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