Commissioners approve tax deal for solar field in “boondocks”

by Geoff Fox

County Commissioner Wayne Keefer had some choice words for fellow Commissioner Randall Wagner after a comment Wagner made about the Hancock area during the discussion of a tax payment arrangement for the proposed McKee solar field project, which involves a Pilot Agreement for SGC Power, LLC.

Washington County Commissioners approve a tax payment deferral for a solar field on the McKee farm east of Hancock.

Commissioners approved the Pilot deal 4-0 with Keefer abstaining from the vote during their November 2 meeting.

Under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) arrangement, SGC Power, LLC would make annual payments to the county instead of taxes on their business personal property.

SGC Power has drawn up plans to install a two-megawatt solar energy generating system on a 10-acre parcel of the McKee farm on the 14000 block of Weller Road in Hancock.

Zachary Kieffer, the legal representative for SGC Power, LLC, wanted to bring the matter before commissioners after his presentation in September was tabled.

The discussion in September was postponed at the request of Commissioner Charles Burkett due to Commissioner Terry Baker absence while dealing with COVID.

There was no new discussion beyond the September presentation.

Solar company officials have told commissioners they plan to invest $2.3 million in putting solar generating equipment on the farm parcel.

Company documents indicate that as soon as the company installs their solar array, they would normally have to begin paying business property taxes on the full value of the equipment.

Instead, the company asked the county to accept payments based on the wattage of power they generate each year.

Under the approved PILOT Agreement, the company will pay $6,500 per megawatt of “installed capacity” per year. That would equal payments of $13,000 per year for the life of the 20-year property lease in lieu of business property taxes.

Kieffer told commissioners it would be $2,305,805 in start up costs with a $28,310 tax bill for year one. The company would get a $13,000 tax bill after that.

The solar field is planned east of Hancock near Weller Road.

Wagner said the area where the solar field would be located was way outside the view of everything and, “for a lack of better term, sort of in the boondocks.”

Kieffer said there would be buffering between trees and no light pollution. The company was pleased with the ground the farmer was allowing the company to use.

Commissioner Jeff Cline wondered about any opposition to the solar field.

Kieffer said they had to apply for a BZA hearing and there was no opposition from neighbors or commission members.

Baker said in the past, he hasn’t supported pilot programs as there hasn’t been much success. He asked commissioners to have a meeting to figure out a possible outline for future pilot programs.

After the vote, Keefer asked Wagner to not call his hometown the “boondocks”. Keefer abstained from the vote due to conflict of interests.

“I don’t think you meant any offense by it, Commissioner Wagner, please don’t refer to my town as ‘living in the boondocks,’” Keefer said.

Wagner argued the McKee farm is outside the town and he understood Keefer’s comment.

Cline said he grew up being called a “river rat” but Keefer commented it was by his classmates, not a county commissioner.

SGC Power expects to start construction of the solar facility as early as January 2022, with “anticipated commercial operation” set to start in mid-August of 2022, they said.