County OKs contract for solar farm

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Although some county officials expressed concerns about the project, the Decatur County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday night to sign a contract with an energy company to construct a “solar farm.”

The contract will allow Tradewind Energy, of Lenexa, Kan., to build a collection of sunlight-collecting arrays on land in the county’s industrial park, near the airport runways. The company will construct the farm on a minimum of 100 acres of land, but hopes to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to build a farm of 200 acres.

Rick McCaskill, executive director of the Development Authority of Bainbridge and Decatur County, told commissioners at the board’s Tuesday evening meeting that the land is unsuitable for general industrial use. Because of the land’s proximity to airport runways, the FAA limits buildings on the land to no more than 10 feet in height — Tradewind’s solar arrays will be eight feet tall.

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McCaskill said that the solar farm project will not bring in a large number of jobs, but it will bring in tax revenues. He estimated that if the company completes the proposed 40-year lease, it will bring in a little more than $41.7 million — or an annual return of $417,000 a year in property tax revenues. Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry noted that would be equal to about “half a mill.”

Under the contract, Tradewind will pay the county $10,000 per year for the first five years, to reserve the land and work on finalizing its plans. Once those plans are finalized, the company will construct the solar arrays and pay a rental fee of $1 per acre. It will then sell the power to Georgia Power or a similar utility, and utilize the solar farm for a minimum of 40 years.

County Attorney Brown Moseley said he had reviewed the contract and had several concerns, including that the county would potentially only see a maximum of $200 in annual rental fees during the last 40 years of the contract. He was also concerned that the county would be stuck in the contract for 40 years, even if the airport were to expand or relocate in the future.

“We’re not sure what our airport will look like 40 years from now,” he said.
However, Perry and other commissioners noted that although the rental fee would be low, the boost in tax revenues would more than make up for it.

County Administrator Gary Breedlove also stated his concerns that the FAA had not already fully approved Tradewind’s proposal. McCaskill stated that even if the FAA rejected the 200-acre farm, the county still would have 100 acres available to Tradewind, on land that is not subject to FAA regulation.

“I’m just saying that these guys [at the FAA] have a big hammer and they’re not afraid to use it,” Breedlove said. “I just wish there had been some better communication.”

Authority Chairman Keith Lyle pointed out that the contract had already been discussed and approved by the Authority in a public meeting on Thursday, Nov. 15. He said other locations had already approached Tradewind with similar projects, and it was becoming a competitive environment.

“If we don’t do it here, then we’ll drive by it somewhere else,” he said.

Lyle also told the commissioners that the Authority could not find a similar suitor for the land, because of its restrictions on building use.

“We’ve got to realize there’s not a prettier girl to dance with here,” he said. “I have 100 percent confidence that this is good for Decatur County.”

Commissioner Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely also stated his belief the project would be good for the community.

“We don’t need to be looking for reasons not to do this,” he said. “We need to be looking for reasons to do this.”

The first motion to approve the contract was made by Commissioner Frank Loeffler and seconded by Perry. It passed unanimously.