Blackwell presents solar farm plans to county

By PAT BROWN,

Dean Blackwell of B2D along with an attorney, Bobby Moorehead, approached the board of supervisors at their Monday meeting with a plan to build a solar farm in the industrial park located just south of Mendenhall on Highway 13. 

Originally, they approached the Simpson County Development District with the plan to lease the park on Highway 13 for a three year commitment while they were brokering a deal to generate solar power.  There are tax incentives according to Blackwell that play out this month and for them to be able to structure the deal an agreement needs to be in place before year end. 

The District agreed to a one year lease for $1,000 and upon the submission of financials and a business plan they would consider renewal.  Blackwell asked the board to commit to building a road that he said would be used for servicing the solar panels located on the property.  It would be built adjacent to an existing gas pipeline which diagonally dissects the property. 

According to Blackwell, this is one of the requirements in order to receive tax incentives on the project.    Blackwell offered that he would pay for the fuel and gravel for construction of the project.  He asked that the county provide equipment and labor for the project. 

Board president, Mickey Berry, countered that the county would provide gravel and Blackwell would be responsible for the cost of the road.   

Blackwell said the project is up in the air and required some components to make the deal happen.  The first thing that would need to happen is that the electricity created would have to be transferred to an existing substation.  The substation exists and is owned by Entergy.   According to Blackwell, Entergy is not interested in paying what it would cost him to produce the electricity and the cost of improving the line so they could transfer could be very expensive.

The next part of the equation would be finding a customer who would pay more than the two cent per watt cost for renewable energy. 

Once these critical issues were settled Blackwell would be given the opportunity to renegotiate the lease or purchase the land.  Blackwell told the board he preferred to own the property which was different from what was submitted to the District.   

Board attorney, Danny Welch, indicated that the county may be able to strike a deal for some level of road work for the project.  Blackwell told the board that the road was not the “key” to making the deal work, but he was negotiating for the best deal he could muster. 

Original discussions included the possibility of up to a 40 year lease with the possibility of renewals at the end of the lease. 

Blackwell also told the board that he had discussed with an attorney associated with Curt Herbert, who was on Federal Regulatory Commission.  Blackwell indicated this may lead to the location of a client moving to Mississippi and possible Simpson County to establish a showplace to be used as a model for solar power transmission.

The board agreed to try to have a decision at the next meeting in December so that Blackwell could move forward.

Danny Welch told the board that he was negotiating the lease on the building Howard Industries is located in on Highway 49.  He said the lease went from the low 40s to $54,000 per year.  He added that Dennis Ammann wanted a graduated lease over the course of the next lease period.  That would keep the value increasing rather than remaining a low rate over a ten-year period. 

There was also discussion about the county getting part of the property back since it was not being used by Howards.  It is the parking lot area which covers several acres, and it is currently separated by a fence.  Howards initially wanted to change the contract to shorten notice of breaking the lease, and also that it did not have to be used for manufacture.  The board has maintained it would not go for this because it could be turned into a warehouse and the county could lose jobs. 

Chancery Clerk, Tommy Joe Harvey notified the board that Mississippi Hub has filed objection to their assessed valuation citing a faltering original business plan.  Harvey received a notice of objection in an email which was dated August 5.  However, the email was not sent to him until November 20.

The board heard a request from property owner, Doug Kellum, to take a private drive and turn it into a public road.  It was stated that the property owner said it was too expensive to maintain.  It also serves other property owners.  The board was going to explore what options may be available.

The board agreed to maintain a contract with Gulf Guaranty for inmate medical care cost despite the fact the premium was expected to increase 7.5 percent. 

The board agreed to send Estus Mangum, who is the new deputy coroner, for a death investigation class.  The cost of the class is $650. 

The next meeting of the board is December 13.  Newly elected officials will be sworn in on January 3 at 10 a.m. in the Circuit Court Room.  The public is invited to attend and there will be refreshments to follow. 

The county offices will be closed on December 24 and 25 as well as Wednesday, January 1, 2020.