Pictured above is the Wy'East Solar Project, a 10 megawatt project recently completed by Avangrid in Oregon. Construction on the Oregon project began in April and went live in early October.
Pictured above is the Wy'East Solar Project, a 10 megawatt project recently completed by Avangrid in Oregon. Construction on the Oregon project began in April and went live in early October.

PUTNAM COUNTY — Rumors are swirling about the possibility of a 1,000 acre solar farm which may be built near Miller City. Avangrid Renewables has been identified as the developer for the potential project. The company is not entirely unknown in the area. Among their many projects nationwide, Avangrid operates Blue Creek Wind Farm, a series of 152 wind turbines straddling Van Wert and Paulding Counties.

Not much is currently known about the project. Martin Kuhlman, the former director of PCCIC has been hired by Avangrid as an agent for the proposed solar farm. Bricker & Eckler, a law firm based in Columbus has reportedly also been retained to look into issues of taxation that will likely inform the projects scope.

Although very early in its development efforts, Paul Copleman, Communications Manager with Avangrid Renewables, discussed the project in a recent conversation with the Sentinel.

“I think it’s important to highlight the fact that we’re really early in this process,” Copleman began. “Certainly, as we learn more about what the possibilities for this project, we’ll be eager to share with the community. But, we’re still trying to determine a lot of the basics around this project.”

When asked about the size of the project, the rumored 1,000 acres, Copleman responds, “At this stage, we’re still trying to understand where the best place might be in terms of compatibility for solar panels, and for equipment to interconnect a potential project to the grid.”

“We have a national footprint of wind and solar projects all across the county,” Copleman continues. “I would say, generally as a rule of thumb, we’re looking for as much flexibility as possible. Having a good understanding of what land might be available as early as possible is usually a critical early step.”

This effort is complicated by the tax status of the farmland being considered. “For property tax purposes, farmland devoted exclusively to commercial agriculture may be valued according to its current use rather than at its “highest and best” potential use,” reads a statement on the Ohio Dept. of Taxation’s website. “This provision of Ohio law is known as the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program. By permitting values to be set well below true market values, the CAUV normally results in a substantially lower tax bill for working farmers.”

By transitioning the land from agricultural use to a utility scale solar farm, the property tax assessment will change. Additionally, under Ohio’s Alternative Energy Zone program, the company could receive an exemption for some tax liabilities if the designation is pursued. According to the Sept. 27 meeting minutes of the Putnam County Commissioners, Avangrid is also reportedly exploring potential exemptions under the Ohio Community Reinvestment Area (CRA) program. This would require the land to be annexed into Miller City, and would again change the tax liabilities for the company.

Regarding the idea of these different tax structures, Copleman says, “I think we’re in a place where we are still trying to figure out what land we would want to use, and what land might be available. We’re not far enough along down the path to know how might all of the financial pieces come together. Much less, be able to figure out exactly when the project could conceivably come to fruition - and as a result ask ourselves what tax structures or incentives might be in place.”

“Traditionally, all forms of electricity generation in the country benefit from some type of support at the government level, Copleman continues. “Those take many different forms. Government support has been in existence for a hundred years for some types of energy sources. We’ll look to figure out the best way to make this project economically feasible and make it work for the community.”

With much to still be worked out, Copleman is asked, why here? Why now?

“We are a renewable energy developer with projects in 22 different states. We’re constantly evaluating new opportunities,” Copleman answers. “We’re constantly having conversations with farmers and ranchers and landowners all over the country who are reaching out to us.”

“There are a number of market conditions that make renewables, and solar in particular, attractive. A critical one right now is that there is a lot of market demand for new renewables. There are companies and governments stepping-up to say that they are interested in these renewable energy sources to power their facilities, to power their buildings. Because that’s what their customers and their constituents are demanding.”

“We look at projects of different sizes all over the country. Right now, our solar portfolio of operating projects include a 10 MW project, a 20 MW project, a 30 MW project, and a 56 MW project.”

“What we try to do with all of our projects is make sure they work for participating landowners and the community. As we get further along down this process, we’ll get to have productive conversations that will make clear how an investment like this can benefit folks in the community for the long term. That’s a conversation we’re excited to have, and figure out as we move forward.”