The Shepherds Flat wind farm mess is the subject of extensive reporting by The Oregonian’s Ted Sickinger, whose work recently inspired Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, to request public hearings next month. Oregonians are unlikely to recover the lost tax revenue, but the hearings may produce some straight answers from some of the officials involved. They also may prevent similar mistakes from marring the state’s extensive backlog of applications under the since-tamed Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program.
The Shepherds Flat controversy involves a pair of problems, the first involving money and the second – and more vexing – involving a refusal to acknowledge the first.
At the heart of the money problem is the state’s decision to award the project three tax credits with a combined value of $30 million rather than the single tax credit worth $10 million to which it was entitled. Shepherds Flat began as one project that subsequently was broken up into three pieces in an attempt to maximize state subsidies, as Sickinger has reported. Even so, the three supposedly distinct projects retained enough characteristics of a single project to disqualify the slice-and-dice effort for tax credit purposes.
The state Energy Department approved the triple credit anyway, violating both state criteria and a common-sense principle former department director Lynn Frank has described as follows: “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.” Frank later likened the Shepherds Flat project to “one duck cut into three parts” and asked, “Why was taxpayer money used this way? Good question. It deserves a good answer.”
But no such answer has been forthcoming even though the Energy Department recently reviewed its decision with the assistance of the state Justice Department.
If Oregonians aren’t going to get their money back, they at least deserve to know the legal underpinnings of the department’s insistence upon calling a duck a hippopotamus.