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Solar companies considering Golden Triangle


From left, Macaulay Whitaker, Orlando Trainer and Harry Sanders

From left, Macaulay Whitaker, Orlando Trainer and Harry Sanders



Alex Holloway



Supervisors in Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties have recently approved resolutions of intent for tax benefits to help attract a pair of solar companies that are eyeing the Golden Triangle. 


Both county boards approved a matching set of resolutions of intent for E.ON Climate and Renewables North America Inc. to try to recruit it. E.ON, according to Golden Triangle Development LINK Chief Operating Officer Macaulay Whitaker, is eyeing property on the border of southern Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties. 


Whitaker said about 80 percent of the land E.ON is considering is in Lowndes County, and 20 percent is in Oktibbeha County. 


Lowndes supervisors also passed a separate resolution of intent for tax abatements for NextEra Energy, Inc., which is looking at land in south Lowndes County. 


Whitaker said E.ON is a little further along and has identified a potential parcel of land, while NextEra has not. E.ON declined to provide a map of the site it's considering. 


Both companies are looking for more than 1,000 acres of land, Whitaker said. 


"Both are in the same state," Whitaker said. "They're gathering as much info as they can to make proposals to (the Tennessee Valley Authority). 


"This doesn't mean this is all that's looking at the area," she added. "These are just the ones who have contacted us for assistance to determine what their options might be." 


NextEra is a Florida-based company. According to a facilities portfolio on its website, the company has 32 major solar power generation facilities, including one in Lauderdale County, Alabama, that generates 75 megawatts of power. 


E.ON's solar headquarters are located in San Francisco. The company has at least three solar facilities in operation, all in California, according to its website. 


Neither company responded to multiple calls for comment for this story. 




The resolutions 


The resolutions Lowndes and Oktibbeha supervisors approved include a provision for a fee-in-lieu agreement for tax abatements if the projects' capital investments are larger than $100 million. Under such an agreement, the companies would pay a fee equal to one-third of regular school and county ad valorem taxes for up to 10 years. After that, the company would pay full taxes on its original investment. 


If the projects are less than $100 million, the resolutions allow for an exemption of two-thirds of county ad valorem taxes for 10 years. However, the resolution does not allow for an exemption from school district taxes in that scenario. 


Whitaker said the projects are likely to bring a high capital investment, with a low amount of created jobs. She said they will probably qualify for a fee-in-lieu if they choose to locate in the Golden Triangle. 


"Given the size that they're estimating, they are likely to be fee-in-lieu eligible," Whitaker said. "The only way that would change is if they build the project in shorter phases and thus decrease the investment per phase." 


Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer said he hopes the resolutions show E.ON area leaders are serious about landing the company. 


"We're hoping that by doing this we can help this project become a reality," Trainer said. 


Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders said the resolutions were "a no-brainer for Oktibbeha and Lowndes" and said the companies, should they come, could be good for both counties. 


"I think it's great," he said. "There are certain industries that are now environmentally-aware and they would like to have some alternate source of energy that's solar, wind-powered or some type that's a non-polluter. I think it's a great idea to come here. ...They're (looking at) some land that's probably marginal as far as any other development, and we've got plenty of sunshine. 


"It's a win-win for us," he added. "We won't have to make any financial contribution other than making a fee-in-lieu or tax incentive." 


Silicon Ranch, a solar company, opened a pair of solar farms near the Lowndes County Industrial Park in early 2016. Both plants generate a combined 1.6 megawatts of power. 


Synergetics, located on Highway 12 in Starkville, operates several solar plants throughout Oktibbeha County than generate a combined 4.7 megawatts of power, according to company CEO David Palmer. That includes a recently completed three-megawatt plant in Sessums. 




TVA involvement 


TVA Public Relations Manager Jim Hopson said the authority has a two-pronged process to site a solar facility. The first step is a technical evaluation to make sure the proposed facility can safely connect to TVA's transmission system. 


"The worst thing you'd want to happen is for something to be installed that creates challenges for the safety and reliability of the transmission system," Hopson said. 


The second step is a power purchasing agreement, where the company negotiates with TVA so the solar production facility's output is purchasable. 


Hopson said it's hard to say how long the process takes, because it varies from project to project. 


Solar power is a growing source of energy generation in the TVA. Hopson said TVA has solar facilities all over its footprint, which includes all of Tennessee, the northern portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, western North Carolina and southern portions of Kentucky and Virginia. 


Those facilities generate more than 400 megawatts of power, which he said is equal to about half the output from a natural gas or coal-firing plant. 


NextEra's Riverbend facility, in Lauderdale County, Alabama, is the Valley's single largest solar facility, Hopson said. 


Hopson said renewable energy sources such as solar or wind are considered intermittent because they're not always able to generate power. He said the TVA's diversifying power portfolio is allowing it to balance renewable energy sources with traditional generation. 


"You have to make certain those intermittent power sources are balanced by other power sources that are capable of taking up whatever slack is necessary," he said. "It's something we've done successfully here in the Valley."




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