Oktibbeha County will enter a “fee-in-lieu of ad valorem taxes” agreement with a potential solar energy project if it is secured and built, thanks to a unanimous vote from the board of supervisors on Monday.
Renewable energy sources are attractive to large companies, and the facility could draw new businesses to the region, Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins told The Dispatch.
“More and more companies will pay more to have renewable power,” he said. “My generation was, ‘I want it as cheap as I can get it.’ (The younger) generation is kind of like, ‘If I’ve got to pay a little bit more but it helps the environment, I’m willing to do it.'”
Higgins did not name the company behind the potential project and said he was not at liberty to disclose where it would be built in the county. The codename is Project North Star, but Higgins said the project is not affiliated with the North Star Industrial Park under construction at the intersection of Highways 82 and 389 in northern Starkville.
LINK representatives did not disclose possible locations for the power plant.
LINK attorney Chris Pace said the fee-in-lieu agreement would be “found money to the county without any drain on county resources” such as road and bridge construction.
In a fee-in-lieu agreement, companies are exempt from property taxes for up to 10 years in exchange for a fee paid to the city, county and school district. State law dictates the fee cannot be less than one-third of what a company would ordinarily pay in taxes.
The Mississippi Development Authority has to authorize all fee-in-lieu agreements, which are only allowed for projects with a minimum investment of $60 million. The LINK originally planned to set up the agreement with a minimum investment of $75 million but reduced it to $60 million. Pace said he believes the company is “hedging a little bit.”
“I’ve worked on several solar projects in the state and I have yet to see one that small,” he said. “I think they want that leeway just in case.”
The potential project might include a battery storage facility to store solar power for use at night or during cloudy weather, which Higgins said would increase capital investment in the project but did not know by how much.
The battery storage facility might be Mississippi’s first, Pace said, so it is unknown if the state Department of Revenue would treat it as a “free port warehouse” and exempt it from all property taxes if any of the power is shipped out of state. Pace said he does not expect the DOR to consider the battery power “taxable inventory.”
The LINK recently responded to a request for a proposal for a company considering a project at the 1,200-acre Infinity Megasite in west Lowndes County, Higgins said. The company is interested in building where renewable power is available, and the Tennessee Valley Authority makes it available to the Golden Triangle, but having solar farms in the area “helps our case” and will generate local property tax revenue, Higgins said.
TVA awarded a contract in February with a Florida-based renewable energy company, Origis Energy, to build a 200-megawatt solar facility on roughly 4,000 acres of land just west of the Infinity Megasite. Origis will begin providing energy to TVA in October of 2022.
A gun rights ‘sanctuary’
The board later voted 3-2 in favor of a resolution to make Oktibbeha County a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” It was initially marketed as allowing the county sheriff to override any possible future state or federal restrictions on firearm ownership and access, but board attorney Rob Roberson said the resolution does not indicate that the county will go “over and above” either level of government.
“The only thing that this resolution would do is suggest that the county is a strong proponent for our Second Amendment rights,” he said. “That’s all it does.”
Supervisors Marvell Howard of District 3, Bricklee Miller of District 4 and Board President John Montgomery of District 1 voted for the resolution. Orlando Trainer of District 2 and Joe Williams of District 5 voted against it.
The supervisors first discussed the resolution at their March 2 meeting but tabled it when it became clear that there would be no majority vote, since Trainer was absent and Howard opposed the resolution at the time. All five supervisors were present at the March 16 meeting, and Howard abstained from the vote then but said he would support it after Roberson changed the language to get rid of the word “sanctuary.”
Howard said Monday that he was no longer concerned that the county would resolve to spend its money opposing state or federal gun restrictions if they happen.
“I am a proponent of the Second Amendment, but I wasn’t a proponent of fighting any rulings that came down,” Howard said.
The supervisors in 27 Mississippi counties since January have passed the resolution, which is part of a nationwide movement that started in Virginia. A measure that would apply to the entire state was moving through the Mississippi House of Representatives before the Legislature went into indefinite recess due to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.