Solar companies sue town over taxed panels
FAIRFIELD — Solar companies are taking the town to court over assessments on solar panels they have installed on residents’ homes.
Vivint Solar Fund has six separate lawsuits covering 47 different properties, while CT Solar Leasing has two suits for a total of 35 properties. A third company, Sunrun, Inc., has one suit pending that covers 26 properties.
The suits contend that under state statutes, solar panels are exempt from personal property taxes, and the companies’ appeals to the Board of Assessment Appeals were denied. The suits also question the assessed value assigned by the Assessor’s office.
Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said Assessor Ross Murray, however, determined the panels were taxable as personal property. The cases are being heard in state Superior Court in New Britain, and are pending, Lesser said.
Murray said he reached his opinion after a more in-depth reading of the state statute that grants the exemption for solar panels, and other court cases that are being heard.
“They (the panels) are not owned by the homeowner, but by a third party,” Murray said. That third party is selling power back to the homeowner, “so in essence, they are a power provider.”
If the panels were owned outright by the homeowner, Murray said they would be eligible for the personal property tax exemption. Outright ownership by the homeowner however, is not that common.
“Most often they’re leased or they have a power purchase agreement — a PPA,” Murray said.
Murray said if the exemptions were granted for the company-owned solar panels, it would mean a loss of about $90,000 in tax revenue. Prior to Murray becoming Fairfield’s assessor, the companies had received exemptions.
Fairfield is not the only municipality facing lawsuits over the loss of the solar panel exemption. CT Solar Leasing has filed suits against Bloomfield, Ansonia, Rocky Hill, Somers, Waterford, Stratford, Cromwell, Columbia, Killingworth, Groton, Naugatuck and Greenwich.
The statute grants a mandatory exemption to Class 1 renewable energy sources installed for private residential use or a farm that were installed after Oct. 1, 2007. The application for the exemption only needs to be submitted once.