Wood County commissioners don’t want to rain on Bowling Green’s array, but they need to know more about a multimillion-dollar tax break that developers say is essential to the economics of a solar field planned north of the city.
That would primarily include the value of what they’re giving up in taxes, which wasn’t immediately clear when the commissioners met with representatives of NextEra Energy Resources, American Municipal Power and the city of Bowling Green, which has agreed to lease land for the solar array and buy the majority of the power it creates. County officials and Bowling Green’s assistant utilities director, Daryl Stockburger, also were present for the discussion.
“It’s a pretty significant ask,” said Commissioner Craig LaHote. “But it’s an exciting project, too.”
Initial calculations from the county auditor’s office put the net tax break at about $7.3 million after payments to taxing authorities, but that was based on a 15-year term; the request from NextEra Energy under Ohio Revised Code would allow the reduction to continue for the life of the project, or 30 years based on NextEra’s lease with BG.
“The duration I think is the abnormality here, as compared to the amount,” Commissioner Joel Kuhlman said of the tax break.
The commissioners agreed that the request is not a normal tax abatement because it’s not tied to an economic development project that would create jobs. Installation of more than 85,000 solar panels would take place from July to December and employ 85 people, and while 80 percent of those workers would have to be Ohio residents, there’s no requirement that any live in Wood County or that any “ongoing” employment take place.
“Yeah, we’ll have some people employed from July to December, but then there’s really not employment benefits to this,” Commissioner Doris Herringshaw said.
“Solar is becoming more competitive, and the need for tax abatement to help with that is probably only going to be necessary for the next five, 10 or 15 years,” LaHote said. “In 10 or 15 years, it looks like it will be more than competitive with other resources, so going out 30 is kind of out past the point where they really need the assistance with the project.”
Jared Haines of NextEra Energy said failure to approve the tax abatement proposal “could potentially cause the project to derail. Potentially.”
“The finances have to work for all the parties,” said Janet Ward, another NextEra Energy representative.
Company officials explained other community benefits of the solar field, including that they’ve forged a relationship with Bowling Green State University for tours. They have offered the university a $10,000 scholarship and will put up $350,000 toward road damage that may occur during installation or removal.
They said they’ve committed to training emergency personnel and have moved the solar array back 1,000 feet from Carter Road at the request of Center Township.
“That was at significant additional cost and time to move the system,” Ward said.
Having the largest solar field in the state will draw attention, she added. “It will bring positive publicity to both the county and the city.”
Asked whether the area could be opened to the public, Haines said the site will be fenced in and tours arranged through BGSU, though a kiosk with information could be placed there like one that exists near Bowling Green’s wind turbines.
“When it was first opened, having the kiosk out there with the computer and the screen saved a lot of calls,” Stockburger said. “People would just be driving by and they would hunt me down.”