In March and April 2020, when COVID-19 was shutting down cities, business and stifling in-person interaction, the Golden Triangle Development LINK was in the early stages of making a deal with Origis Energy to build a solar farm in Clay County.
The usual in-person recruitment process instead moved to a series of Zoom meetings, in which Clay County and West Point officials approved a fee-in-lieu agreement for Origis, and The LINK hammered out other necessary elements to bring the company’s third solar farm to the region.
“The cool, fun thing about this is we put together a deal with more than 2,000 acres, and we never met with anyone face-to-face,” LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said. “That’s obviously a first for me.”
Origis and the Tennessee Valley Authority formally announced in a press release Wednesday its partnership for a 200 megawatt solar farm in Clay County, which Higgins said would be built on agricultural land to the east and south of the Yokohama tire plant. The facility will also include 200 megawatts of battery storage and is expected to be complete in 2023, the press release said. It will be used as part of TVA’s Green Invest program, where utilities in the TVA coverage area — which includes north Mississippi — can contract with the power provider to bring solar energy into their grids.
TVA and Origis have already partnered to build two solar farms in Lowndes County, near Artesia west of the Infinity industrial development megasite, totaling 350 megawatts with 100 megawatts of combined battery storage.
Higgins, speaking to The Dispatch, estimated Origis will invest between $200 million and $300 million for the Clay County project. Under the fee-in-lieu agreement, which will allow Origis to pay a fee that amounts to one-third of the regular property tax rate for up to 10 years, it would generate between $500,000 and $750,000 annually in tax revenue that would be split evenly between Clay County and West Point, Higgins said. After the fee-in-lieu expires, it would generate well more than $1 million each year, he said.
Unlike many fee-in-lieu projects for industries that have come to the region, Higgins said the local governments are not investing in water, sewer or other outlay for the project.
“We don’t have a dime in this project, so all (generated tax) is net new revenue,” he said.
The city of Knoxville, Tennessee, has reserved about one-fourth of the Clay site’s solar energy production for its power supply, as well as between 40 and 60 megawatts from the Lowndes County farms, Higgins said. Earlier this week, TVA announced Starkville had also reserved enough solar energy from Origis’ Lowndes site to make up about 15 percent of its power supply.
Origis’ third utility-scale solar farm for Mississippi “demonstrates the success of Green Invest to connect local communities, private business and public power through renewable energy,” Johan Vanhee, the company’s chief commercial officer and chief procurement officer, said in Wednesday’s press release.
“We are excited to use TVA’s innovative program to contribute to economic activity in Clay County while helping the city of Knoxville achieve its carbon reduction goals,” he added.
West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson said landing the project shows what “teamwork” among the city, county and LINK can accomplish.
“This is going to mean a lot to West Point and Clay County in tax revenue,” Robinson said. “Joe Max and the LINK worked tirelessly on this project. Our agreement with the LINK (for industrial development) is worth every penny we pay them.”