|Shelby County to hold public forum on proposed solar farm of up to 1,200 acres|
John Walker, Shelbyville News; 10/19/2018 11:12:00 AM
To allow for a review by a financial planner, the Shelby County Council has put off a hearing regarding a tax abatement for a proposed solar energy farm.To allow for a review by the public, the council will put on a “town hall” forum to address concerns about the plan.
About 30 people came to the County Council’s meeting in the Court House Annex, 25 W. Polk St., Tuesday evening. The tax abatement hearing was on the council’s agenda.
However, it didn’t happen.
“There’ll be no decision made tonight,” County Councilman Tony Titus (R-At Large) told the audience.
The council sought the advice of its new financial consultant, Greg Guerrettaz of Financial Solutions Group in Plainfield, regarding the abatement and is waiting to hear back.
A tax abatement phases in the payment of property taxes over time. It is often used as an incentive for business development projects.
Ranger Power, based in Brooklyn, New York, wants to build a commercial solar power installation on up to 1,200 acres of farmland roughly due south of Gwynneville in northeastern Shelby County.
The company would make a capital investment of at least $87.5 million to build the facility and create up to four jobs paying $30,000 to $80,000 per year, according to Ranger Power’s attorney at a Sept. 18 meeting of the County Council.
Even with no abatement hearing, members of the audience at Tuesday night’s meeting had a number of questions for the council about the project.
Phil Stout, who lives in the area where the solar farm would go if approved, said he wasn’t against renewable power, but he didn’t like to see farm property taken up by an unrelated commercial operation.
“It’s about saving farmland, is my point ... We’re trading food for energy. I just feel it’s wrong,” he said.
Another attendee worried about the impact granting a tax abatement on the project would have on Morristown schools.
Tax abatements only affect the increase in property value created by a development; the existing property taxes paid on the land would not be reduced.
Some at the meeting had documents that described the toxic materials used in making solar panels.
According to the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists (www.uscusa.org) under the “Our Work” tab about clean energy, thin-film photovoltaic solar panels contain several toxic substances and are manufactured using others.
However, that webpage notes there is a strong incentive to recycle the panels due to the “highly valuable and often rare” materials used to make them.
Peter Endris, representing Ranger Power at the County Council’s Sept. 18 meeting, said a facility in Shelby County would be fenced, and the company would be bonded to ensure there are funds to decommission the installation at the end of its life.
Attendees at the meeting Tuesday asked if the council would schedule a “town hall” to discuss their concerns in detail.
The County Council’s special town hall meeting to hear from residents is scheduled to take place in the Court House Annex at 6 p.m. on Oct. 29.
Councilman Bryan Fischer (R-2nd District) urged those with questions about the solar project to contact council members.
Their contact information is available online. Go to www.shelbycounty73.com and click on “Council.”
Ranger Power is due to go before the Shelby County Board of Zoning Appeals regarding the project. The board is scheduled to meet in the Annex building at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13.
Sam Booth, director of the Shelby County Plan Commission, said the company is seeking a special exception to the zoning regulations for the agricultural use assigned to the parcels it will lease for the project.
If the BZA approves, no other governing body has to OK the project for it to move forward, Booth said.