FREMONT – Sandusky County commissioners voted unanimously to designate the county as an alternative energy zone, which will provide tax breaks to green energy industries moving to the area.
The decision was made Thursday as German-based wind turbine manufacturer Nordex works to build an estimated $400 million wind farm project proposed for southeast Sandusky County and northeast Seneca County.
The designation also would apply to alternative-energy projects such as solar, biomass and clean coal facilities.
Without the tax incentive, the tax burden would prompt alternative energy developers to locate elsewhere, said Kay Reiter, director of the Sandusky County Economic Development Corporation.
“To bring it down so we could be competitive with other communities across the United States,” Reiter said. “If the cost is too high, the project just couldn’t happen here.”
Under Ohio’s tax structure, alternative energy generators have a per-megawatt tax burden ranging from $40,000 to $115,000. In an alternative energy zone, those per-megawatt taxes are capped at $9,000.
Seneca County commissioners approved the designation in October, joining a handful of other Ohio counties, including Clinton, Hardin, Noble, Paulding, Putnam, Henry, Summit and Van Wert.
Reiter said even at the lower tax rate, school districts, governments and other taxing entities still would see revenue if the project goes forward.
Reiter said Nordex has a whole checklist of things to complete before it can break ground on the first wind turbine, which would be in Spring 2013 at the earliest.
“It is a long process,” she said. “The project is moving along. They’re finishing up their lease agreements with the property owners and working on endangered species requirements.”
In addition to meeting with county commissioners, Nordex representatives also are meeting with local property owners, township trustees and the county engineer, Reiter said.
County Commissioner Dan Polter said the taxes and jobs the wind farm would bring would benefit the local economy and governmental entities, but said he is not as confident the project will go through to completion.
“It would be nice if it came in,” Polter said. “This legislation makes it possible for them to look at our county, but it doesn’t mean we will have windmills. The Ohio Siting Board has the final say in whether or not the farm goes forward.”
Polter said he fears concerns over migratory and other birds in the area could threaten the project.
Another concern raised in early meetings between county officials and the developer related to two private air strips, which may need to change their Federal Aviation Administration status before a wind turbine can be installed nearby. Reiter said Nordex representatives say they are “pretty comfortable” they can work out that issue.
If the project goes ahead, Nordex will build the turbines, supervise installation and maintain them for the life of the equipment, but would sell the wind farm itself, likely to an electricity utility or municipal power company.
The proposed farm would include 60 to 70 turbines, Reiter said, each of which would stand about 400 feet tall. Exact locations have not been determined.
Reiter said the state law setting up the special tax zone also sets requirements for alternative energy companies. Those include wage requirements, a mandate to hire employees from within a certain distance from the site and requirements that the company pay for road improvements to bring in the necessary heavy equipment during construction.
More than 200 construction jobs and five to 10 permanent jobs likely will be associated with the farm if it comes to fruition, Reiter said.
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 means local school districts would get the majority of the new revenue, about 70 percent of the total.
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