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Concord okays solar power to be cut from property tax



Monitor staff
Saturday, July 01, 2017

Concord might be in line for a solar-power boom now that solar panels will no longer be subject to property tax assessments, especially after state regulators decided not to greatly change payments for electricity production.

“Concord has been traditionally a little bit unfriendly to solar. ... I think this will probably foster a significant change,” said Erik Shifflett, co-owner of Granite State Solar in Boscawen.

On Monday, the city council unanimously voted to create a tax exemption for solar installations on residential, commercial and industrial properties, meaning that solar panels to produce electricity or hot water will no longer be added to the assessed value of a building when calculating the tax bill.

The change will be applicable as of next year’s tax bills both for existing solar units – there are about 102 in Concord – and newly built ones. Assessments have already been made for 2017, so the new law will not be applied until assessments made next year.

Owners of panels will need to apply to get the exemption, said Kathy Temchack, director of real estate assessments for Concord.

“We’re going to send letters, probably this winter, to people who currently have solar panels and explain that they’ll need to file for a property tax exemption going forward,” she said.

Rules are still being drawn up, so it’s not decided yet whether owners will have to re-apply for the exemption every year, every other year, or as seldom as every five years.

“I know that we’ve lost a couple of potential sales due to no tax exemptions in Concord,” said Shifflett, whose firm has been doing solar installations for eight years. “The average value of a solar array is north of $20,000. When you’re calculating the return on investment it’s a big consideration when you add in the uncertainty of: Is the assessor going to whack me with this tax charge?”

Monday’s decision by the city council comes on the heels of an order from the state Public Utilities Commission about net metering, the system under which solar panels are paid when they produce more electricity than the building is using.

The PUC said the current system will apply for all solar panels that have been accepted into the interconnection queue by Sept. 1, a designation that allows owners to be reimbursed. Solar units accepted after Sept. 1 will be reimbursed at a slightly lower rate, and Shifflett said this deadline is likely to create a rush.

“Between now and Sept. 1, I think you’ll see a real bump in interest,” he predicted.

As an example of the difference made by local practices, Shifflett pointed to Deerfield and Candia, each of which has more than 100 systems installed, even though they have much smaller populations than Concord.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that New Hampshire has 3,501 solar systems throughout the state with a total output of 34 megawatts, about three times as much energy as can be produced by the Garvin Falls dam on the Merrimack River in Concord. This puts us in the middle of the pack among states.

An organization called Solar Power Rocks – which is, as the name implies, pro-solar – gives New Hampshire a B grade in its 2017 Solar Report Card, a tally that combines grades in 10 categories from performance payments, where we get an F because we don’t do that, to sales tax, where we get an A because we don’t do that, either. The state got an A for net metering because at that time it reimbursed excess electricity at the full retail rate; the new rate, which is about 20 percent less per kilowatt-hour, may reduce this grade.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)