MERIDEN — The city is negotiating to settle a tax appeal lawsuit filed by the owner of the hydroelectric turbine at Hanover Pond.
The Connecticut Green Bank, which owns the 20-ton turbine or Archimedes Screw, is challenging an assessment of $2.99 million made for the 2017 Grand List. Based on the assessment, the owners were billed $122,812 for taxes in 2018, according to the lawsuit. The appeal, filed in 2018, also states the city previously informed the owner it would only be taxed at about $12,000 during its first couple of years of operation.
“As part of its consideration to finance the aforementioned project … the applicant relied upon representatives from the city that the local tax for the personal property during the first full year of use would be approximately $12,788 and the local tax for the following seven years would decrease each year,” the lawsuit states.
City Attorney Stephanie Dellolio said she couldn’t comment on a pending lawsuit. The attorney representing Connecticut Green Bank, Mario Coppola, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Dellolio met with the City Council to brief them on a possible settlement on Feb. 18. The discussion, held behind closed doors in executive session, was listed on the meeting agenda as a discussion “of a pending legal matter.” This violated state transparency laws because municipalities are required to give more information about what’s being discussed than “pending legal matter,” according to Tom Hennick, public education officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission.
“The whole point of an agenda is to keep the public apprised of what’s going on,” Hennick said.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati called the issue an “oversight” and said the agenda was supposed to be revised with more details prior to publication.
“I was sick to my stomach when I saw that because I know it’s been a bone of contention in the past,” Dellolio said.
The hydroelectric generating screw, named after technology made famous by ancient Greek scientist Archimedes, was the first of its kind in the U.S. when it was installed at Hanover Pond in 2016. The 20-ton, 35-foot-long steel screw generates electricity when water at the top of the dam is sent through the screw, causing it to rotate at about 30 revolutions a minute.
As part of its agreement to allow the screw on city property, the city purchases energy produced by the screw at a lower cost. When the screw was installed it was projected to save the city $287,000 over its first 20 years of operation.
In addition to savings generated by the screw, the city has been in talks with Connecticut Green Bank to participate in a “virtual net metering project” offered by CBG. The program, made possible by a state law passed about 10 years ago, offers financial incentives to municipalities to encourage renewable energy generation.
The program would allow the city to transfer billing credits generated by the project to its utility accounts over a term of 20 years and is projected to save the city $75,000 annually, according to a City Council resolution. The resolution, which the council is expected to vote on this week, would authorize the city manager to enter an agreement for the program.