FREMONT – Sandusky County Commissioners were asked Thursday to consider designating the county as an “alternative energy zone,” which leaders hope would draw a $400 million wind farm project to the area.
The distinction would give tax breaks to alternative energy facilities that build projects in the county. County Administrator Warren Brown said he is developing a resolution for commissioners to consider, but doesn’t expect a decision to be made for a few weeks.
Commissioners said they want feedback from trustees representing the townships where the proposed wind turbines would be located before they consider the proposal.
The wind farm, being proposed by German-based wind turbine manufacturer Nordex, would include 60 to 80 turbines, each about 400 feet tall.
The proposed wind turbines would be spread through York and Green Creek townships in Sandusky County and Adams, Thompson, Scipio and Reed townships in Seneca County.
Seneca County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Oct. 17 that designates their county as an alternative energy zone.
Laura Caspari, the project developer from Nordex, told commissioners that the state application process for the proposal could take the majority of next year.
Caspari said Nordex also still needs to secure leases with local landowners and iron out potential issues with two private air strips in the area before construction could begin, which she said could be as early as 2013.
“That could conceivably hold up the project,” she said of the current Federal Aviation Administration status of the air strips. “We hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Sandusky County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Kay Reiter reminded commissioners that local governments would still benefit from the project, despite the tax abatement.
Reiter said the wind farm is only profitable for developers like Nordex with the reduced taxes the alternative energy zone distinction would bring.
She explained that the company would pay more than $100,000 per megawatt without the abatement. With the alternative energy zone, Reiter said, that per-megawatt tax would be reduced to between $6,000 and $9,000.
A state law passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 2010 allows counties to create the zones, reducing tax rates on alternative energy companies.
Tax receipts from energy generation, Sandusky County Auditor Bill Farrell said, would be distributed based on the county’s current tax structure. Farrell said that meant local school districts would get the majority of the new revenue, about 70 percent of the total.
Caspari said Nordex will build the turbines, supervise installation and maintain them for the life of the equipment, but said the company plans to sell the wind farm itself, likely to an electricity utility or municipal power company.
“There is no buyer lined up yet; it is much too early for that,” she said. “There is a market out there for it.”
Caspari said the company would like to get assurances from local governments that they support the project before moving forward.
Reiter pointed out that if commissioners create the designation, it will apply to all alternative energy projects in the county, including development of biomass, solar and wind energy.
“It wouldn’t just be for this project,” she said. “It would apply to any alternative energy project.”
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