01/08/13 — Mount Olive board considers fees for solar farms

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Mount Olive board considers fees for solar farms

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on January 8, 2013 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- New solar farm fees popped up on the town's agenda after a number of companies have expressed interest in bringing their sun-powered operations into Mount Olive.

The board discussed the proposed changes during Monday night's Mount Olive Board of Commissioners meeting.

"As you know, we have a number of solar farms looking at Mount Olive," Town Manager Charles Brown said. "Some of these have some pretty substantial price tags, one of their prices, one that I heard mentioned, was $30 million. Our normal commercial permitting fee over $50,000 is $3 for every $1,000 of cost of construction. For that operation, that would be a $90,000 permit. (The solar farms) sort of looked at, I don't think anyone had a dead faint over that fee, but they questioned it."

Brown said he was not necessarily a proponent for reducing the fees, but added that the town should use them as a bargaining chip with energy companies to potentially bring more money into the town. For example, the town could reduce the construction permit fee if the solar farm company agreed to annex the property into town limits, which would allow the town to collect taxes on the operation on a more consistent basis.

"If they aren't annexed into the town -- when you get that check for permit fees -- that's all the money you will ever see from them," Brown said.

Town Attorney Carroll Turner saw problems with that proposal.

"They are simply the lessee. They have signed a ground lease. They do not have the authority. You are asking them to agree to voluntarily annex a property, when they are not the owner of the property," Turner said. He also disclosed that he represents energy companies. He, however, does not work with any of the solar farm companies looking at Mount Olive, which he said allows him to avoid a conflict of interest.

Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. thought it was fair to try to get as much money as possible out of solar farm companies because they are heavily subsidized by the federal government, he said.

"These solar farm people have the opportunity to make money off the taxpayers," McDonald said. "Mount Olive has just as much as right to get as much out of it as we can as they do getting it out of the federal government. I would like to get money out of it for twenty years if they have a lease."

McDonald asked the town attorney to look into any options the town has in potentially getting more money from the farms.

"We aren't asking for a decision tonight. But I think it's something that needs to be discussed by the board," Brown said.

Town Inspector Danny Keel said some energy companies are about to start submitting paperwork for potential farms.

"I'm looking for plans for Harrell's Hill Road -- that project (could begin) anytime now," Keel said.