Vigo County Council OKs tax abatements for solar farm

Howard Greninger, The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.
·4 min read

Apr. 14—Duke Energy Renewables Solar LLC took its first step toward constructing a $180 million solar farm in southern Vigo County and northern Sullivan County after the Vigo County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved tax abatements.

The County Council gave a preliminary approval for a 10-year tax abatement on property and 10-year tax abatement on personal property of $100 million, as about 60 percent of the project is in Vigo County. The Council will vote on a final approval at its May 11 meeting.

Tim Hayes, environmental development director for Duke Energy's commercial renewable sites, said the company next will meet with Sullivan County officials.

"We will go through a similar process there," Hayes said after the Vigo County Council vote.

"Right now we are targeting development in 2023, but we are still in the marketing of the power from the project and that all has to fall in place for the project to move forward, to find a customer for the output," Hayes said.

If the project is not approved by Sullivan County, Hayes said the company would have to determine if the project could be redesigned.

"We would have to look at that and see what land is available... that is an option," Hayes said. "Our preference is to not do that, but keep the project in both counties."

Prior to the vote, Hayes told the Council that vast majority of projects nationwide receive some type of abatement, varying by state and county, due to the competitive nature of renewable power sources.

Duke Energy Renewables solar farm would generate about $50 million in taxes over 35 years — about $29 million (with tax abatement) in Vigo County and $21 million in Sullivan County.

Under a tax abatement, the company would have more than $7.9 million in taxes abated in Vigo County over a 10-year period, but would pay more than $4.9 million in taxes over the same period. An abatement gradually phases in taxes over the 10 year period.

When completed, the solar farm would have three permanent jobs with an estimated wage of $40 to $45 per hour for $240,000 total annual or $80,000 annually each, according to a tax abatement presented to the Council.

Construction is targeted for 2023, with power generation by mid 2024. The project will create a maximum of 200 construction jobs over a 12 to 18 month period.

The 175 megawatt, ground-mounted solar generation facility, would provide enough electricity to power 35,000 homes. The solar farm is slated for a 1,500-acre site that includes 896 acres in Vigo County (in Pierson Township and Linton Township) and 604 acres in Sullivan County. It is located on reclaimed coal strip mine currently being used for crops.

The site is connected to a 138-kilovolt Duke Energy Indiana transmission line through a utility-owned interconnection switching station near Farmersburg. Duke Renewables will lease the site from Farmer Jack Land Company LLC and Hoosier Jack Land Co. LLC, both owned by Terre Haute businessman Greg Gibson, for the solar project.

In 2013, Gibson worked with the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp. to market a 4,650-acres site called the Hoosier Jack Mega Site for business development. The reclaimed site formerly was Peabody Coal's Farmersburg Mine.

Steve Witt, president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., told the Council last week it is difficult to attract traditional industry to a reclaimed site "because concerns of heavy loads," as companies may have to remediate soils of any environmental issues if ground is disturbed below certain depths. Witt said a solar farm is an ideal use for a reclaimed brownfield.

In other business before the Vigo County Council:

—Approved a request from county commissioners to make the county attorney's position a part-time position for 2021. Michael Wright will remain as county attorney, but will transition out of the position at the end of the year. Full-time pay for the position is $83,351, which is reduced to $27,645 as a part-time position for the remainder of this year.

Commissioners will use the difference in salary to pay attorney Joel Modesitt of Modesitt Law Firm as a contracted attorney through this year.

—Approved a request from Vigo County 911 Director Vickie Oster to add three $1,500 annual stipends for shift supervisors and $1,000 annual stipends to three assistant supervisors.

—Approved a request from Vigo County Courts to increase the salary of its court system administrator to $50,580 from $43,531 in base pay.

—Approved a request from commissioners to change the title of a current secretary to administrative assistant and approved an increase in salary to $44,090 from $37,583.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.