Economic study of Birch Solar project coming

By Mackenzi Klemann - [email protected]

SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — An economic analysis will consider how the proposed Birch Solar project, a 375-megawatt solar farm that could be constructed in portions of Allen and Auglaize counties, could affect school districts and local government budgets for the next three decades.

At issue is a renewable energy tax incentive that the counties may grant to Lightsource bp if its Birch Solar project is approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board.

Lightsource bp has already indicated it plans to apply for preferential tax treatment if the project is approved, which would allow the company to make a set payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) that would remain fixed for 35 years.

“What we’re looking for is that compelling reason to deviate from our stance that there should be no PILOT,” said Doug Spencer, an Auglaize County commissioner.

Typically, Spencer said the Auglaize County commissioners only approve PILOT or tax abatement requests for projects with significant capital investments and job growth or retention.

But Spencer said a PILOT may benefit Apollo Career Center and Shawnee and Wapakoneta schools because it wouldn’t affect state funding and would offer a guaranteed source of income for decades, which prompted the two counties to see how school funding would fare if they offered the PILOT or required the company to pay standard utility tax rates.

The Allen County Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved a resolution to work with the Cincinnati law firm Taft, Stettinius & Hollister to conduct the analysis, the first step in the study process. The costs of the study will be split between the counties and schools.

But the analysis is a difficult endeavor, as the Ohio General Assembly is considering a biennial budget that may alter the state’s school funding formula. And the analysis cannot fully anticipate future tax levies, utility tax rates or other revisions to the funding formula, Spencer said.

“The easy button is to hit the PILOT,” he said, “because you know from year one through year 35, this is how much income that you’re going to receive. It’s not going to change. Then that begs the question: Say you’re getting $100,000 in 2021. What is that value in 2051?”

By Mackenzi Klemann

[email protected]

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