Solar energy ‘farm’ coming to county

Published 6:14 pm Friday, November 16, 2012

A national alternative energy company plans to build a collection of sunlight-collecting solar panels — also known as a “solar farm” — in Decatur County in the coming years.

During Thursday’s meeting of the Development Authority of Bainbridge and Decatur County, Executive Director Rick McCaskill explained that Tradewind Energy, headquartered in Lenexa, Kan., seeks to build the solar farm on flat land in the industrial park, near the county’s airport runways.

McCaskill said Tradewind Energy will tentatively sign a lease to pay $10,000 a year to reserve “at least 100 acres” of property for the construction of the solar farm, although McCaskill hopes the farm will be at least 200 acres. He said it should take between two to four years for Tradewind Energy to finalize its plans, and then the company will start construction on the solar farm and operate it for at least 40 years, paying the authority an annual lease fee. Tradewind Energy plans to use the hundreds of solar panels to collect sunlight and convert it into electrical power, which would then be sold to Georgia Power or other utility companies.

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McCaskill said the company will make a $70 million investment in the project, and that at least $40 million will be added to the county’s tax digest. Although there will not be a large number of jobs at the solar farm, the project is still a boon to the county’s economy because it utilizes land that otherwise could not be used for other purposes.

McCaskill explained that Tradewind Energy wants to place the solar farm on land near the county airport’s runways, because that land is flat in terrain, and there are not many large structures to create shadows that could interfere with solar power collection. Land near a runway is limited in use, because Federal Aviation Administration regulations set a limit on how tall buildings can be, when they are located on land adjacent to a runway. McCaskill explained that the solar panels will be eight feet tall, well within the 10-feet-tall building limit placed on such land.

“I would also argue that it’s going to make us look like a progressive county,” McCaskill said. “You’ll be able to drive down [U.S. Highway] 27 and see the solar farm, and hopefully stories will appear in magazines and newspapers about the farm, and it’s going to draw some people’s attention to how progressive we are in Decatur County.”

Several members of the Authority also pointed out that Decatur County is already home to other “green” industries — such as DaniMer Scientific and Meredian, which create eco-friendly plastic products without the use of fossil fuels. They noted that the addition of the solar farm would allow the county to perhaps market itself to other “green” industries.

McCaskill said he would strongly recommend that local contractors would be used in the construction of the solar panels, because Tradewind Energy does not have its own in-house construction department. He also suggested that a partnership could be instituted, with the help of Bainbridge College, to provide some training for employees who may be interested in working at the solar farm.

The lease must first be approved by the Decatur County Board of Commissioners, and then signed by Tradewind Energy officials, but McCaskill was confident all parties would sign it.