Vinton County optimistic about proposed solar-energy project.

Source: DailyClimate

McARTHUR — Vinton County officials are laying out the welcome mat for a large solar-energy project that would generate tax revenue as well as electricity in a part of Appalachian Ohio that could use the money.

Chicago-based renewable-energy company Invenergy plans to build the 125-megawatt solar farm on reclaimed strip-mined land just outside McArthur, about 75 miles southeast of Columbus.

“I love that the site was used for power and it is again going to be used for power. It’s a wonderful twist,” said Terri Fetherolf, Vinton County’s development director.

Invenergy also plans to build a 150-megawatt solar farm next to a 175-megawatt wind farm it is developing in Hardin County in northwestern Ohio.

Both Invenergy proposals are pending before the Ohio Power Siting Board.

Another company, Blue Planet Renewable Energy, is seeking board approval to build a 125-megawatt solar farm in Brown County, about 30 miles east of Cincinnati.

The three solar farms are the first to seek approval from the six-member board, which regulates electricity-generating projects of 50 or more megawatts, said board spokesman Matt Butler. The board has approved nine wind farms and is reviewing another, he said.

The soonest the board would decide whether to approve the projects is in the first half of next year, Brown said.

The projects come as American Electric Power and other electric utility companies are expanding their fuel portfolios — once dominated by coal — to include more renewable-energy sources. AEP subsidiary Appalachian Power, for example, has announced a plan to buy the Hardin County wind project that Invenergy is developing for commercial operation in 2018.

Pending approval, the Vinton County solar farm is projected to be in commercial operation in 2019, according to Invenergy’s permit application with the state board. The company plans to lease about 2,000 acres of privately owned land, including 1,110 acres on which the solar arrays and a substation would be built. A 0.2-mile overhead transmission line would connect the solar farm’s substation to a nearby AEP substation, the company’s application says.

Invenergy is keeping the project cost secret, calling it “commercially sensitive” information. An economic-impact study the company submitted to the regulatory board said the project “represents an investment in excess of $150 million.”

Invenergy doesn’t know yet whether a utility or another industrial or commercial customer will buy the electricity generated by the Vinton County project, which could power an estimated 15,000 homes, said company spokeswoman Mary Ryan.

Construction would employ more than 200, although the solar farm would involve only two workers to operate it, according to the company.

The value to Vinton County lies in the tax revenue the project would generate, said county Commissioners Mark Fout, Jim Satory and Tim Eberts. They anticipate negotiating a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Invenergy that would generate $827,822 for county and local governments and the countywide school district, which would receive $389,902 of the annual total.

The annual total was based on charging the company $7,000 per megawatt. The total could be higher if the commissioners negotiate a charge of as much as $9,000 per megawatt, the maximum allowed under state law, said county Auditor Cindy Waugh.

The amount would far eclipse the $11,717 in annual property taxes now collected from the site.

Whatever revenue emerges, this is a significant project for Vinton County, a beautiful but impoverished county of about 13,200 people whose workers commute to neighboring counties for jobs.

“Anything is significant to us,” Waugh said. “It is hard for our tax base to grow … We’re not counting our chickens before they hatch, but we are hopeful, very hopeful.”

Leaders of the school district, which has 2,142 students and operates on a general-fund budget of about $25 million, also are hopeful. “This additional revenue would be great for the district,” said Treasurer Erica Zinn.

Eugene Engle, a local businessman who has agreed to lease to Invenergy his land along Infirmary Road in Elk Township, just outside McArthur, said he is confident that state regulators will approve the project.

Engle, who uses the reclaimed land as grazing pasture for his 250 head of cattle, declined to disclose how much Invenergy will pay to lease the gently rolling land.

Fetherolf, the county’s development director, said she hopes this project will lead to others in Vinton County, which is looking for ways to conduct a study of other appropriate strip-mined sites close to transmission lines that it could offer for development.

Satory said that in addition to the tax revenue, he likes the idea of reusing mine land for renewable energy.

“It’s like giving the land a second chance,” he said.