Solar farms will increase Clarendon County’s tax dollars

by | January 14, 2019 11:00 am

Last Updated: January 11, 2019 at 9:21 am

The first of three planned solar farms built by Southern Current has been completed on Racoon Road and Highway 301. However, two more will be completed in 2019, one on Highway 301 near the new BCA plant in Summerton and one outside Summerton, also on Highway 301.

With the new solar farms popping up, questions have been asked what they are for and about how these will affect Clarendon County residents.

According to Clarendon County Economic Development Executive Director George Kosinski, these first three solar farms are each on roughly 20 acres of land and will each produce three megawatts of power. To put this in perspective, one megawatt will power a manufacturing plant, although some plants which would use higher amounts of high-energy machinery and equipment may use more power.

The land for the solar farms is leased from local land owners with a 20- to 30-year lease, which coincides with the expected lifespan of the panels. The panels capture sunlight which is converted into electrons. These electrons are sent along the power grid through existing lines to the power companies.

“The parent company, such as Duke or Santee Electric, who is producing the power may not have to burn as much coal or run their hydroelectric plant as long, because some of their electricity is being generated now by alternative energy,” said Kosinski.

Southern Current has a contract to provide this power to Duke Energy, who will sell the energy to its customer base.

A new site in Panola has been leased, totaling 1,400 acres. Adgar Solar is hoping to build two farms which produce about 71 megawatts of power each.

“The smaller farms were each three to four million dollar investments. The larger ones will be a total investment of roughly $200 million,” said Kosinski.

These larger sites are still in the assessment phase, where the developer is performing environmental testing and geological surveys on the property to ensure the sites will work for the solar farms. Once these phases are completed, the developer will submit interconnect agreements to the power companies such as Duke or Santee Electric. Through a process, the developer hopes to gain a signed power purchase agreement with a power company, which means the power company will purchase the electricity produced from the farm. Currently Adgar Solar does not have an agreement for the power.

“One of them will go to Duke, and the other one will go to either Duke or to Santee Electric,” said Kosinski.

Once the agreements are in place, Adgar Solar will move forward with the construction process. According to Kosinski, this construction could begin in 2019.

These solar farms won’t likely reduce local residents’ utility bills. However, the tax gain for Clarendon County will be high. Kosinski states solar farms are assessed at a 10 1/2 percent rate. This means each of the three-megawatt sites will generate about $15,000 per year. The larger sites would potentially bring over $100,000 per year each.

“We’re looking at a very significant amount of taxes coming into the county,” said Kosinski.

Kosinski also pointed out there is no draw on the local economy. With a manufacturing plant, there will be families with children who attend the schools and there will be emergency services who serve the new families. However, as there will be no permanent employees once the farms are up and running, none of these services will need to be provided.

A more direct benefit to local businesses will come when locals are hired to build the solar farms.

“Any contractors who come in look locally first for labor. They look for local carpenters and brick layers and such, because it’s expensive to mobilize units from out of state,” said Kosinski.

Kosinski states he is pleased we have received the attention of the solar companies, as it’s a way for a rural area to increase its tax base and court larger companies. However, he also states once the two larger farms are built, there likely won’t be more large farms in Clarendon County.

“It’s based on transmission status. Farms over 50 megawatts must be built on transmission lines,” said Kosinski, who stated these run through the Panola area. Only these lines have the capacity to transmit that power load. Smaller farms, he states, may be built on distribution lines.

While there is the possibility more smaller farms may pop up, Kosinski asserts there is no danger of taking all the farmland or woodland to create these farms. Based on Clarendon County’s limited ability to transmit power back to the power companies, “it just can’t happen.”

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