(St. Joseph County, IN) - Final approval for constructing a massive solar farm on land used for raising corn and soybeans outside New Carlisle has been granted.
The St. Joseph County Council on July 12 unanimously gave final approval to a revised agreement governing the development of the planned 150-megawatt facility.
The council tabled the agreement the previous month to add language guaranteeing local union labor will be used to build the solar farm on about 1,000 acres of soil used for raising corn and soybeans north of U.S. 20 between Spruce Road and Tamarack Road in Olive Township.
St. Joseph County Economic Development Director Bill Schalliol said construction would begin once the crops are harvested in October or November. The work is scheduled to be completed late in 2023.
“We’re going to see a lot of dirt moving toward the end of the year and all of next year,” Schalliol said.
Lightsource BP, a leader in developing and operating solar farms worldwide, is behind the estimated $164 million development.
The revised agreement pushed for by organized labor requires 75 percent of workers constructing the solar farm to be union members from St. Joseph and adjacent counties. If there's difficulty hiring enough local workers, contractors can expand their reach to fill gaps in the workforce.
Lightsource BP is partnering in the hiring agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 153, the Laborers International Union of North America, and the Operating Engineers Local 150.
As many as 200 construction jobs are anticipated to be created from the project.
The farm consisting of tens of thousands of solar panels will produce enough electricity to power over 20,000 households annually.
Schalliol said less than a half dozen employees would be needed to operate the solar farm on several adjacent parcels with different owners.
Owners will lease their property for an undisclosed fee from Lightsource BP under privately negotiated contracts for 35 years.
Schalliol said the land would revert to farming if the land use agreement based on the projected lifespan of the solar panels is not extended. The taxes collected from the property would increase from about $80,000 annually to more than $2.5 million a year.
St. Joseph County Economic Development Specialist Chris Brown said the project is partially funded with tax dollars captured from a tax increment financing district.
The TIF boundaries will strictly encompass the solar farm. In addition, $64 million in tax revenue is projected to be generated over the agreement's lifespan from increased assessed property value driven up by the development.
Over $27 million will be captured from the TIF and distributed to the Olive Township government and other taxing units such as the New Prairie School Corporation and public libraries. The balance of the TIF funds will go to Lightsource BP to help offset their investment in the project. Payments will be made annually.
"Whatever is remaining is basically sent back to the company as the incentive to keep their cost at a level where they're still able to make the project viable from a financial standpoint," Brown said.