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Spotsylvania looking at eliminating tax exemption for solar farms

Spotsylvania looking at eliminating tax exemption for solar farms

Whitehouse Solar Site

In the first year, sPower officials have said the company would pay the county $600,000 to $700,000 in taxes, along with a one-time fee, pushing the total to about $1.3 million.

With a decision looming on whether to allow a massive solar farm to be built in the western part of the county, Spotsylvania supervisors have taken the first step toward repealing tax exemptions for that type of operation.

The board Thursday approved a public hearing aimed at possibly getting rid of local real estate and personal property tax exemptions for large-scale solar facilities. The hearing will be held Dec. 11.

Deputy County Administrator Mark Cole, also state delegate for the 88th District, told the board the exemption is similar to exemptions for churches. He said supervisors enacted the code in 2007, exempting solar companies from 100 percent of those local taxes.

Cole said some supervisors asked staff to look into the issue and “may want to repeal that exemption.” The supervisors did not discuss the issue at the meeting.

Supervisor David Ross said he didn’t know how much the exempted taxes would amount to, but didn’t think it would be much.

There are no such solar facilities in the county now, but Utah-based Sustainable Power Group wants to erect 1.8 million solar panels next to the Fawn Lake community and other residences in the rural area around Orange Plank and West Catharpin roads.

Residents who live near the site, which is zoned for agricultural use, have come out in opposition to the proposal. They say such a large power facility does not belong in a populated area and claim there are various potential negative impacts, including on their health, the environment and home values, that need to be studied.

The company, also known as SPower, has filed for a special-use permit to build the facility on more than 6,000 acres. The facility would produce 500 megawatts of solar energy, to be sold on the wholesale market. The company already has agreed to sell all the power the facility would produce to such major companies as Apple and Microsoft.

According to a financial analysis produced for SPower, the company would pay a significant amount in county taxes: $10 million over a 35-year span.

In the first year, sPower officials have said the company would pay the county $600,000 to $700,000 in taxes, along with a one-time fee, pushing the total to about $1.3 million.

The tax is set to drop significantly as the years pass, but sPower has committed to paying a minimum of $600,000 to the county annually during the 35 years the facility is scheduled to be online. That revenue would amount to a total of more than $20 million.

Taxes for agricultural use of the property during the span would amount to $760,000, according to the analysis.

A public hearing on the special-use permit is slated to be held by the Planning Commission on Dec. 5.

The supervisors have the final say on the permit and will hold their own public hearing on the matter after the commission makes its recommendation.

In other business, supervisors approved a $5.9 million contract with Culpeper County-based Taft Construction to upgrade the county’s animal shelter. The cost has risen more than $2 million since the county started planning the project three years ago.

The initial price tag was $3.79 million, which the county originally set aside for the project. Part of the higher cost is related to the increase in the project’s scope, inflation and increased costs in the construction industry, according to county staff.

Some of the work on the shelter, built in 2000, is required by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in order to get the facility up to code.

Work will include an 11,000-square-foot expansion of the shelter and the addition of new kennels, which also will be enlarged to meet industry standards. The expanded building also will have a holding space for cats and dogs, and dog runs will be added.

County Administrator Mark Taylor said the county hopes to break ground on the project early next year.

This story has been updated to show the updated total tax revenue sPower expects to pay the county.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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