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St. Joseph County OKs development agreement for proposed 150-megawatt solar farm near New Carlisle

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

The St. Joseph County Commissioners unanimously approved an economic development agreement Tuesday for a massive solar farm near New Carlisle. The agreement gives developer Lightsource BP a property tax break while also potentially generating millions of dollars in new tax revenue.

Dubbed ‘Project Honeysuckle’, the $164 million solar farm would be built on 1,100-acres of agricultural land between U.S. 20 and Darden, Spruce and Tamarack roads in western St. Joseph County.

By far the largest solar project in Michiana, it would provide 150 megawatts of power — enough for around 25,000 homes.

The solar farm was first proposed in 2019 by energy company RES. The proposal was purchased by Lightsource BP in 2021.

Under the economic development agreement, county officials will vote later this year to create a special tax financing district, or TIF, to support the project.

It would freeze local property tax rates at current levels, with increases in assessed value instead going to the county redevelopment commission to be redistributed.

Currently, the farmland generates about $75,000 each year in property taxes. But the solar project will significantly increase the land’s value.

During the agreement’s 25-year lifespan, the county will be able to send more than $27 million in new property tax revenue to local tax districts including New Prairie Schools, Olive Township, the St. Joseph County Public Library and the South Bend airport while also sending more than $37 million back to the developer as an incentive.

According to the agreement, New Prairie schools would receive up to $30,000 in the first year. Going forward, distributions to the district would increase by 10 percent annually for the next 24 years.

The other local taxing units would receive portions of the total increase in assessed value, increasing by 13.2 percent annually subject to a yearly vote from the economic development commission.

After that, any remaining tax revenue would be credited back to Lightsource BP.

The solar farm is expected to create 200 short-term construction jobs and 3 to 5 long-term jobs. As part of the agreement, Lightsource BP says at least 75 percent of those jobs will be filled by local workers, which the agreement defines as people residing in St. Joseph County or adjacent counties.

Construction is expected to start this fall, and power generation could begin in early 2024. Once completed, the solar farm is expected to be operational for at least 35 years.

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

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