Here comes the sun

Construction materials and completed solar arrays cover hundreds of acres of land in a Mitchell County field.

ALBANY — Taking a drive around the area’s country lanes and even the state highways, a motorist won’t go far without seeing neat rows sprouting up from the fields.

In this instance those aren’t peanut and cotton plants but large solar panels coming out of the ground, and even more of the sun-driven projects are slated for the future.

As Georgia Power Co. has expanded its use of renewable energy, multiple companies have won bids to construct solar farms — from the small to the very large. Two large projects under way are on Moultrie Road in Dougherty County and near Baconton in Mitchell County.

The 120-megawatt project in Dougherty County being built by NEXTera Energy is on a 1,089-acre site. Property taxes from the $300 million solar farm are expected to total $10 million over 30 years.

In Mitchell County, where two solar farms already are producing energy, workers are constructing a 160-megawatt facility. It will produce enough electricity each year to power an estimated 30,000 homes.

“It’s bringing lots of tax dollars to our community,” said Paige Gilchrist, executive director for the Mitchell County Development Authority.

While the jobs, expected to top out at 400 during the peak construction period for the project, are not permanent, construction is adding a huge boosts to restaurants and other local businesses, Gilchrist said. The county will bear no long-term expenses and will not have to build additional infrastructure or provide additional services.

“We would like to have an industry that brings a lot of jobs, but we also want to grow our tax base,” she said.

The Southern Oak solar development is expected to pump $12 million into Mitchell County’s economy in the first 10 years of operation, including tax payments, lease payments to landowners and wages and benefits to employees.

The county granted tax abatements for equipment only. However, some land where solar installations are sited were not taxed in the past as they were protected under state programs for farm and timberland. With the solar projects, that property will now be taxed.

And when the hundreds of workers are done with their work near Baconton?

“They’ll be here for several more months, and hopefully then they’ll start work on the next one,” Gilchrist said.

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