RUSHVILLE – The first of three counties a Florida-based energy company is eying for a proposed wind farm has taken the steps to make that farm a reality.
Rush County Council voted by a count of 4 to 2 Wednesday morning, in a joint meeting of the county’s council and commissioners, to approve a standard 10-year tax abatement for NextEra Energy Resources, which is looking to place approximately 25 turbines in Washington and Union townships in Rush County as part of the proposed Whitewater Wind Farm project.
The project, overall, would have 70-plus wind turbines spread throughout Fayette, Rush and Henry counties.
A full house filled the Rush County commissioner and council chambers, along with Jeremy Ferrell, project manager for the Whitewater Wind Farm, to discuss the topic – much as has happened in Fayette County the past two months.
Ferrell presented the history of NextEra Energy Resources to both elected bodies, along with detailing some specifics about the Whitewater Wind Farm, which for Rush County is estimated to bring in roughly $6.9 million in tax revenue – along with an estimated $600,000 in economic development fee payments – over a 30-year span.
And, much like at the two meetings previously held in Fayette County, there were those in the audience who spoke out both in favor of the wind farm project and others who denounced it.
Verlin Custer, a Rush County resident, was one of those who spoke in favor of the project and what it could bring to Rush County if a tax abatement was approved.
“The main thing is the amount of money it’s going to put into our county. It’s going to give us a tax base to work with. We seem to be on a declining tax base, a declining population in Rush County, and this gives us a way to recapture some of that tax revenue we’re losing. From an economic standpoint, I feel like it’s a no-brainer as far as the county’s concerned,” Custer said. “The landowners who actually have this (wind turbines), it’s additional income for them … I think it would be in the best interests of the county and the citizens of Rush County, in general, to proceed on with this project and grant the tax abatement these people are asking for.”
Jason Semler with H.J. Umbaugh & Associates, who is working with NextEra Energy Resources, Rush County and Barnes & Thornburg LLP in negotiations about the proposed wind farm, told officials and the audience that adding NextEra to the tax base – even with the tax abatement – would end up resulting in a gradual tax rate decrease for Rush County residents.
John McCane, executive director for the Rush County Economic and Community Development Corporation, also reiterated to officials that granting the tax abatement for NextEra would make good business sense.
“I support the tax abatement on this project,” he said, citing what NextEra would pay in taxes on one acre of property it would be leasing from landowners in Rush County, the economic development payments the county would receive and the additional influx of money property owners would receive from the leases with NextEra. “As a county, we’ve always been pro-business. Tax abatements are just another tool in today’s business world. For me, it makes a lot of sense. I urge you to approve this abatement.”
Others, however, voiced their opposition about the proposed project, such as Rush County resident Victoria Foley, a former Libertarian candidate for office in Rush County.
Foley questioned Ferrell as to why NextEra needed a tax abatement from the county, when they receive federal subsidies for their wind energy projects, and also expressed concern as to the impact wind turbines would have on the county’s landscape and citizens health.
Another Rush County resident, Thomas Mahan, told Rush County officials that this situation involved more than money, even invoking a passage from the Book of Matthew – “You cannot serve both God and money” – in expressing his opposition to the project.
Ferrell, in response to a question from one councilmember, Janet Kile, on what would happen to the proposed wind farm if Rush and Henry counties approved a tax abatement, but Fayette County declined one, told her that the project would probably be re-drawn with more turbines going into Rush and Henry counties.
One county councilmember, Jerry Kent, urged his fellow elected officials to think about taking another month on the subject and possibly delaying a vote on it, but other officials – such as commissioner Bruce Levi – said taking a vote on the abatement, and supporting the proposed project, was something the county needed to do.
“As far as the tax abatement, it’s business. You don’t see new businesses going anywhere unless they’re given one,” he said. “We’re in a competitive market … you have to have incentives. I’ve done research on this company. They’re up front. They’re a good corporation … I would hope that we don’t pass up an opportunity to keep property taxes down, because that’s what (commissioners) have tried to do, and that’s one way to do it.”
The end result was a vote of 4-2 in favor of the tax abatement, with Rush County commissioners then to vote on approving decommissioning and road use agreements with NextEra Energy Resources concerning the wind turbines.
One Fayette County councilmember, Mark Pflum, was in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting in Rushville and said the results will likely have an affect on how the Fayette County Council votes on the tax abatement at its January meeting. The council voted this month to reconsider a tax abatement at its January meeting, after voting a tax abatement down earlier this month.
“I think that this will probably affect it,” he told the after the meeting. “It’s a good chance we’ll vote it in, simply for the fact that if we don’t, like (Ferrell) said, these turbines will come here (to Rush County) and Fayette will be dead in the water.”
The Fayette County Council is slated to discuss the tax abatement for NextEra at its Jan. 6 meeting. The Henry County Council is slated to have a public hearing on the tax abatement at its Dec. 17 meeting.
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