CHICKASAW • A pair of bills moving through the Legislature would allow Chickasaw County to lower its tax abatement below the current legal limit to pave the way for a potential solar farm.
House Bill 1063, introduced by Rep. Jon Lancaster, D-Houston, and its sister bill, Senate Bill 2895, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ben Suber, R-Bruce, would allow counties to designate certain projects as “transformable renewable energy projects” and lower the tax abatement on such properties to 8%.
The standard taxation rate is 15%.
The bills represent an effort to make Chickasaw County more appealing to a company seriously considering the county for a solar energy farm, but expressed reservations about high millage rates.
According to Suber, lowering the county’s tax rate will help make Chickasaw County, or any other county being eyed for such projects, more competitive.
“We had to do something to make it easier for them,” Suber said.
Lancaster said the bills better align the rates with surrounding states, making it more appealing for these types of industries to come in.
“We were sitting here at 15% and I think Tennessee was at like 12.5% and Alabama was like 9.5%, so we were out of the hunt essentially,” Lancaster said.
Chickasaw County District 2 Supervisor Bill Blissard said the hope is that attracting the solar farm to Chickasaw County will have a domino effect by driving up the county’s assessed value (by more than $700,000, according to his estimate), which in turn would allow officials to lower the county’s millage rate to help attract future industries.
Blissard added that certain types of industries tend to follow sources of renewable energy.
“A lot of times, certain industries follow green energy like data centers and such as that. Not a real big employee base, but just taking steps in the right direction,” he said. “It could be the beginning of a lot of good things, but at the very least, it will up our taxes and allow us to lower our millage and make us look a lot more attractive.”
Suber, who represents Chickasaw County, said if the bills do lead to a new renewable energy farm in Chickasaw County, it would be a boon for the county’s tax base. The land on which the farm would be built is drawing between $5,000 and $10,000 a year in ad valorem taxes; the solar farm could boost that number to more than $800,000, he said.
“I think it’s something really good for the county,” Suber said. “The taxes were going to be well into the millions … so by lowering this, we’re giving the company a break, but we’re also still generating a lot more income for the county than what we had had previously.”
The property being eyed by the unnamed renewable energy company lies south of Okolona. If built, the solar farm will occupy approximately 1,200 acres of land.
Suber said the company is currently eyeing multiple sites in several states, but favors Mississippi and Chickasaw County.
According to estimates from the company, the farm will generate enough electricity to power 25,000 homes. The electricity generated will be sold to TVA, and the risk of failure is low as the farm would only be a supplemental source for TVA.
“TVA’s primary source of energy has always been hydro and nuclear, so this will just be supplemental,” said Lancaster.
Chickasaw County officials say the company plans to invest somewhere between $140-160 million. It is a 30-year project.
Both bills have passed their respective chambers and now head to the other. If both bills pass, they will be combined into a single bill and run through the branches again.