Greene County Commission approves 20 year tax abatement for proposed solar farm

At its regular meeting on Monday, November 14, 2016, the Greene County Commission met and approved a twenty year tax abatement for the NextEra Energy Inc. This company proposes to invest $93 million in the construction of a solar energy farm on a thousand acres on Highway 43 south of Eutaw in Greene County.
NextEra Energy Inc is competing with several other companies to respond to a request for proposals from Alabama Power Company for this project. Alabama Power Company will purchase the energy generated by the plant.
Trey Hill of Bradley Arrant of Birmingham an attorney representing the company presented the request to the Commission and indicated that NextEra Energy was looking at several locations in Alabama to locate the project and was securing this property tax abatement from each potential county. There is no certainty that NextEra or Greene County will be chosen for this project. The tax abatement is an incentive to attract this potential project.
The lawyer for NextEra indicated that he was not seeking an abatement in the sales tax on the manufactured items to be used in building the project because that tax goes to support the schools and the hospital. These sales tax receipts would come at the front end of the project and are estimated at $510,000, which is ¾% of the $70 million in solar panels and other equipment proposed to be purchased to build the solar farm.
The property tax abatement would save the company $4.4 million in taxes over the twenty year period but still provide $ 3.7 million in taxes for Greene County Schools, which cannot be abated. Currently the 1020 acres generates $2,108 annually in taxes for the county.
The solar farm will only require about two high paid employees when completed but will provide many more jobs during the construction period.
The Commission reviewed the request in the meeting and asked a number of questions about the project. All of the Commissioners expressed concern that the request was made at the last minute and not enough time was given to study the project. Commissioner Cockrell indicated that the company should have come earlier and tried to use land owned by the county, which would have produced more benefits for Greene County. It was pointed out that the County Commission does not own land that is suitable for this project.
The Commission voted 3 to 1, with one abstention to approve the project. Commissioners Michael Williams, Lester Brown and Tennyson Smith voted in favor; Corey Cockrell voted against and Allen Turner abstained (probably because he works for Alabama Power Company, at the steam plant).
The Commission also agreed to seek Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for two other perspective projects that the Greene County Industrial Authority is working to bring to Greene County. These projects are seeking state financial incentive support through the CDBG program.
The Commission heard a financial report from Paula Bird, Chief Financial Officer, who indicated that finances were generally meeting the budgetary limits of 8% funding for October, the first month of a new fiscal year. She reported that the County had $ 3.6 million in local bank accounts and another $1 in sinking funds to address bonds that had been issued in previous years to fund projects.
Bird reported that the County had paid $1,345,072 in claims for the month of October, which included some large matching payments to the state for road and bridge repairs.
In other actions, the Greene County Commission:
• Approved Southwest Alabama Regional Highway Safety Grant to pay overtime and additional costs for traffic control and enforcement, during the current fiscal year.
• Approved Mutual Aid Agreement between American Red Cross and Greene County EMA to deal with disasters.
• Approved $13,153 grant from ADECA Energy Division for energy efficient lighting at the Eutaw Activity Center.
• Ratified a $9,000 grant for safety vests for the Sheriff’s Department.
• Approved County Engineer to employ an Assistant Engineer and $5,874 for a computer design softwear.
• Approved changes in the County’s Personnel Policies required by changes in Department of Labor regulations.
• Approved travel for staff to attend training conferences.
• Appointed Rosemary Edwards and reappointed Lucy Spann to the Greene County Hospital Board.

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