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Solar facility will be taxed

Assessor’s Office agrees with whistleblower
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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A Placer County Assessor’s Office review of a privately held solar-power facility on Placer County-owned land in North Auburn has concluded that it’s taxable after all. The solar-panel array was constructed by Roseville’s Solar Power Inc. in fall 2007 and later sold to Mill Valley’s Solar Power Partners. Located on two acres, the two-year-old solar array provides electricity to the juvenile detention center. But since its construction it has not been on the assessor’s property tax roll. The decision by the Assessor’s Office followed an initial call by Auburn resident Chris Beckman last January for a probe into the potential to tax the facility. Beckman, a retired county Assessor’s Office employee, said he hadn’t sought an assessment of the solar panels on the $2.4 million project. Instead, he’d asked for a review of whether the lease agreement triggered an assessment on the land. Beckman said he was thankful that the Assessor’s Office had recognized the assessed value – technically termed a possessory interest. Beckman asked whether the Assessor’s Office was going to continue to pursue the issue, with the possibility of fines being levied by the county for fraud. Allen Haim, assessment appeals board legal counsel, said “It’s far fetched here,” before Chairman Darrell Burruss said that the assessor could pursue the matter. ”But it’s not in our bailiwick,” Burruss said. Solar Power Inc., which employed Supervisor Kirk Uhler until last month, has said that it served as contractor on the construction project and now has no financial interest in the North Auburn field. The report presented this week to the county Assessment Appeals Board says the ground lease should have been reported to the Assessor’s Office but never was. The report by James Lambeth, managing appraiser with the Assessor’s Office, and Brian Wirtz, deputy county counsel, concluded that the fair market value for the ground lease on the property is $80,000. Solar Power Inc., which built the structure and held the power-purchase-contract’s $1-a-year lease on the land with the county for seven months, and Solar Power Partners, which took over the contract in October 2007, are both liable for their share of the $800 yearly tax bill. Assessment notices have been sent to Solar Power Inc. and Solar Power Partners, Lambeth said. The $80,000 value was based on similar rents for vacant land that can be developed with a ground-mount solar system, the report said. The appeals board heard the report without comment. Lambeth said the Revenue and Taxation code excludes the actual solar panel system from an assessment because it is isolated from the area where the energy is used. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.