SNOW HILL – County leaders opted to postpone their decision on a solar developer’s request for a substantial tax abatement in an effort to get more information.
The Worcester County Commissioners agreed to table the tax abatement request from Longview Solar Tuesday as more financial data was gathered. Longview Solar has plans to build facilities in Berlin and Snow Hill and is hoping to secure an 80-percent personal property tax abatement from the county.
“Our focus is to develop the lowest cost solar assets in the U.S. market,” said Byron Crawford of Longview Solar. “That’s what led us to the Eastern Shore.”
Crawford, whose company has done projects throughout the country, said he’d been drawn to the Eastern Shore because it was ideal for solar, with open land, hot summers and lots of sunshine.
“The sunniest places will produce the lowest cost energy,” he said.
Crawford said Longview Solar planned to build a solar facility on 250 acres just outside Berlin on Libertytown Road as well as on 110 acres in Snow Hill on Public Landing Road. Both locations are currently farmland, though neither are ideal for that purpose, according to Crawford. He said the properties his company was interested in developing had been suggested by farm owners when they had turned down Longview Solar’s requests to buy other parcels.
“We do not have the ability to twist these farming families’ arms,” he said.
According to Crawford, the property owners who are willing to lease the company their land will use the proceeds of those leases to supplement their farming incomes. He stressed that there were reasons the farmers were willing to give up the use of their land for 30 years.
“This is a very wet farm,” he said of the Berlin property. “It was on the market for over a year before we put it under contract.”
He added that Longview Solar was even willing to work around the old farmhouse and surrounding pecan trees on the site.
“Those pecan trees are a species that deserve to live on,” he said. “The neighbors were pleased to hear that.”
In Snow Hill, the land Longview Solar wants to develop is a compilation of several small fields.
“The challenge with these farms is they’re relatively small and hard to work,” Crawford said.
He added that the construction of the solar arrays — which he’d like to see begin this summer — would take six months to a year and would result in 40-60 temporary jobs.
Once they’re built, the solar facilities will employ no one, will not create waste and will not put a strain on local infrastructure.
“They are very low cost assets,” he said.
Crawford told the commissioners that the properties pegged for solar currently generated $3,000 in real property taxes for the county. If they’re used for solar, they’d generate $40,000 in real property taxes.
He said Longview Solar was seeking an 80 percent tax abatement of the personal property taxes associated with the projects because otherwise the company would be paying more in taxes than it would in leases for the project. With no abatement, personal property tax for the projects would amount to $654,733 the first year. An 80-percent abatement would drop that to $130,947.
“I like the idea of solar but why should the taxpayers of this county subsidize your business?” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “You’re not bringing much to the county as far as jobs.”
Crawford stressed that the county’s real property taxes would increase if the solar projects came to fruition.
“The county would be better off in supporting this,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Bunting said if the commissioners granted this request other businesses could seek abatements. County staff agreed.
“It’s an open door,” Finance Officer Phil Thompson said, adding that other utility projects were underway in the county. “I can’t tell you who’s going to come in.”
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said it was up to the commissioners whether they wanted to approve the 80 percent abatement requested, a smaller abatement, or no abatement at all. The commissioners voted 6-0 (with Commissioner Bud Church recused) to table the matter until more financial information was gathered.