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Massive 150 megawatt solar farm dubbed ‘Project Honeysuckle’ may be built near New Carlisle

Solar panels gather sunlight in Florida.
John Raoux
/
AP
Solar panels gather sunlight in Florida.

A massive, 1,100-acre solar farm dubbed ‘Project Honeysuckle’ may soon be built by Lightsource BP in western St. Joseph County.

The solar farm was first proposed in 2019 by energy company RES. But in 2021, the $164 million project was purchased by Lightsource BP.

Nine Olive Township property owners have signed lease agreements for the project, which would produce 150 megawatts of power and be located on land between U.S. 20 and Darden, Spruce and Tamarack roads.

The project would have pollen-friendly landscaping, promoting biodiversity, and the panels would be installed on posts in such a way so that at the end of the solar farm's 35-year lifespan, the land could return to agricultural use.

If built, it would be by far the largest solar project in Michiana.

During a Monday public information session about the project in New Carlisle, county economic development specialist Chris Brown said the county has proposed a special tax increment financing district, or TIF, to support it.

If enacted, the TIF would freeze local property tax rates at current values. Revenue would continue to go to Olive Township, New Prairie Schools, the library system and the airport.

But the solar farm would cause the land’s assessed value to increase, with the money going to the county redevelopment commission.

Brown said a portion would be sent to New Prairie Schools and a portion would be used for project-related infrastructure improvements within the TIF area.

“So New Prairie Schools in year one, for example, will get a check for $30,000,” Brown said. “This will increase over the life of the project.”

But the rest would be returned to the developer as a property tax credit.

“By crediting this remainder back to the developer, we’re holding their property taxes at a lower rate,” Brown said. “Which means they’re going to be able to be more competitive moving the ball to get the project actually constructed.”

The TIF would last for 25 years, and the property tax credit would decrease every year until it expires.

Despite that, Brown said tax revenue would actually increase. Right now, the farmland is assessed at about $75,000 per year in property taxes. In contrast, the solar farm could generate at least $27 million over its 35-year lifespan.

The redevelopment commission could also vote to raise the assessed value of the land once per year, sending more revenue to the school system, township, library and airport.

The project would bring up to 200 one-year construction jobs and three to five full-time jobs.

Members of the public seemed to mostly support it during the Monday meeting, but multiple people said the county should mandate the use of local construction labor.

Right now, the draft agreement only requires Lightsource BP to make a reasonable effort to do so.

As for next steps, Brown said the County Council is scheduled to vote on the development agreement on April 12. The redevelopment commission will vote April 14, and the County Commissioners will vote April 19.

If the agreement is approved, the county will then create the TIF. Construction could start this fall.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.