TUSCUMBIA — Colbert County Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved a 10-year tax abatement for a company considering western Colbert County for a 100 megawatt solar farm.

NextEra Energy officials said they're looking at property in western Colbert County near Cherokee Nitrogen and near 227-megawatt solar farm being developed by First Solar.

The commission agreed to abate 100 percent of non-educational taxes for five years, and a 50 percent abatement for the subsequent five years.

Clay Canning, the project manager for renewable development for NextEra Energy, said Colbert County schools would realize about $250,000 per year in revenue over 15 years. The amount will decrease through the life of the solar farm, he said. The property currently generates about $2,500 per year, Canning said.

The agreement is similar to the abatement the commission granted First Solar, which is in the early stages of developing its solar farm, Shoals Economic Development Authority Vice President Kevin Jackson said.

Construction of the First Solar farm is expected to begin in early 2020 and the farm would come online in 2021. They will be providing power to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

"It will get some money back into the county faster," Jackson said. "The big thing with these (solar farms) is the capital investment and the revenue they're able to put back into the schools."

TVA spokesman Scott Fiedler said the utility put out a request for proposals in April for an additional 200 megawatts of renewable energy. Those proposals are due by May 15.

Canning said they need tax abatements to reduce the cost of power they would be selling to TVA. He said NextEra will be submitting a proposal to TVA.

He said the company also has active projects in Jackson County and Lincoln County, Tennessee.

Canning said NextEra sought an abatement similar to First Solar's because the company didn't want to ask the commission to give them a better abatement than they did a competitor.

Commissioner Charles Hovater asked Canning to try and use local contractors if the project moves forward. Canning said 200-300 workers would be involved in the construction phase, which would take about a year.

He said contractors prefer to use local workers because it eliminates housing costs that come with out-of-town workers. There is also a road repair agreement in the contract, County Attorney Edgar Black said.

Jackson said solar power is becoming more popular in North Alabama.

"A lot of it has to do with Google and Facebook," he said.

Facebook is building a $750 million data facility in Huntsville while Google is working on a $600 million data center at the old Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Jackson County, which was decommissioned by TVA in 2015.

Big tech companies, Jackson said, want green power, which has been present in the Shoals for decades in the form of hydroelectric power provided by the TVA's Wilson Dam.

"You don't get greener than the Shoals," Jackson said.

"My position is, I would give 100 percent (abatement) if the Googles and the Facebooks of the world would locate in Colbert County," Commission Tommy Barnes said. "That's my goal."


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