County sifts through solar project taxing process

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Dec. 1—CLINTON — Clinton County Treasurer Dustin Johnson clarified questions raised by Clinton County Supervisors on the taxing process for a proposed solar project west of Grand Mound.

Hawkeye Solar LLC and Hatchling Solar LLC are proposing to construct a 200-megawatt and a 50-megawatt facility in Clinton County. As of last week's Board of Supervisors meeting, the county still had not received an application from Hawkeye Solar for the project. The project needs to be approved by the Clinton County Board of Supervisors prior to moving forward.

Johnson estimated under the current code, a dollar collected currently based on the levy on agricultural land is going to be three times higher under the excise tax, he said.

Multiple factors affect how the funding is apportioned to school districts, Johnson noted.

"The way it's apportioned to the districts is based on their cost of acquisition of the land and construction and the value thereof," Johnson said at last week's Board of Supervisors meeting. "So they'll report all that to the state and that will come back to me and our import file from the Department of Management. And we'll send billing accordingly."

Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom Determann noted the relationship between the excise tax and power production. He stated if another storm comes through the area and they do not produce the power, the county could get no funding from the project.

This is correct in theory, Johnson said. However, he does not think it would be a 100% wipeout of power generation, he said. This same theory could apply to a coal plant or another similar project, Johnson added.

"If any other generation form was impacted by a storm or a natural disaster, and they weren't producing it, the same would apply. So yes, that's a very slim possibility. I don't think you'd see a 100% damage so the facility would be not operable for two years. I'm pretty sure the bankers would be pounding the door down, 'hey, get this thing back up and running.'"

Board Vice Chairman Jim Irwin Jr. questioned if the county could lose a year of property taxes. If the project is approved, construction will not start until the spring of 2023, he said.

There is no way they could not pay something, Johnson stressed. They would fall into the same billing cycle with excise billing that the county operates on for real property, he said.

"My understanding of it is it stays on real property values as of January 1," Johnson said. "So January 1, 2023, it's still ag land. So January 1, 2024, it may be up and running as a solar facility. Well then it would convert over to the excise tax and if they're producing throughout the year in 2024, that would be the amount that we would get back based on what they produce...Depending on what the file status is that we get by that time, that's how I anticipate that conversion happening. And it might not be 100%. There might be part of the project that lags a year based on as that project comes online. It's hard to speculate. Now we're talking four years out into the future. We'll just see how it plays out but I'll assure you it will get billed one way or the other."

There is no point where the property would not generate revenue to local government, Clinton County Supervisor Dan Srp said.

"It's one until they flip the switch and turn it on and then it becomes the other," Srp said. "And then that'll be where the treasurer will have to make a determination about trying to prorate."

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