Boscawen could become the first town in New Hampshire to remove a long-standing ordinance that makes rooftop solar exempt from property taxes if voters agree at town meeting.
Town meeting was postponed by Tuesday’s storm. it will be held Saturday, March 25.
At least 140 towns and cities in New Hampshire choose not to include the value of home “solar energy systems” when calculating property taxes. This move, made possible by a state law dating clear back to 1971, is seen as an important incentive for people to install solar panels.
Boscawen voters created the exemption in 2011 and reaffirmed it at town meeting in 2021, but an article on the town meeting warrant next week would remove it. Lorrie Carey, chair of the Boscawen select board, said the idea was proposed at a public hearing by residents looking to cut their taxes.
“We put it on the warrant because this was a public recommendation,” she said. “Do I think the town will vote (the exemption) down? I don’t believe so … but we have to be responsive to our public when they make recommendations on the budget.”
State law gives towns the option of instituting more than a dozen types of tax exemptions or credits, including several for energy systems such as solar, wind and battery storage. Tax exemptions can raise the local tax rate because they reduce the amount of assessed property in town, raising the tax bill for residents who do not get the exemption.
Like most towns, Boscawen offers a number of tax exemptions and credits, including for veterans, blind and elderly residents, and property that is in current-use status and unavailable for development. Carey said some people at a public hearing focused on the solar exemption.
Many towns in New Hampshire do not make solar systems exempt from property taxes but it does not appear that any town or city has put the exemption into effect and then later removed it.
Data from Clean Energy New Hampshire indicated that 27 solar exemptions had been granted in Boscawen through 2021, totaling about $520,000 in assessed value, which at current rates would bring in about $15,000 a year in property taxes. That puts Boscawen roughly in the middle of the list of communities in terms of dollars lost to the exemption, a figure that runs from $129,000 for Nashua for 276 exemptions to $18 in Ossipee for a single exemption.
Ed Cherian, chair of the Boscawen Energy Committee but speaking only for himself, called the proposal “unfortunate.”
“It pulls the rug out from under a lot of people who made very careful financial decisions about whether to invest in solar,” he said. “It undermines people’s ability to do what the town is trying to do, which is reduce our dependence on energy provided by utilities.”
Two candidates running for the open select board seat, Gary Tillman and Bill Bevans, said at Monday’s candidate night that they oppose the warrant article to remove the exemption. The third candidate, Loren Martin, said she supports it.
The select board approved putting the question on the ballot by a 3-0 vote. Carey said this doesn’t mean that the board supports the article to remove the exemption, only that they went along with residents’ wishes to put it on the ballot. She noted that she was on the select board in 2011 when the exemption was first created and supported it.
Statewide, the potential revenue from untaxed solar arrays depends on their number and size, meaning some communities that have lots of small-scale solar aren’t losing much money. For example, Concord had 165 exemptions for solar panels through 2021m displacing $14,752 in taxes, according to Clean Energy NH data. Other areas towns on the list include Warner, with 51 exemptions and $32,000 in displaced taxes; Henniker, 27 and $30,000; Andover, 59 and $16,200; Chichester, 25 and $15,000; Dunbarton, 48 and almost $14,000.
Pittsfield, Hopkinton and Epson all had less than $10,000 in taxes avoided by the solar exemption.
The warrant article needs a simple majority to pass. Town meeting is at Boscawen Elementary School at 7:40 on Tuesday, March 14.