by Emmitt B. Feldner
for The Beacon
SHEBOYGAN — The county is on board with a proposal for 150-megawatt solar farm in the town of Holland.
The County Board Tuesday approved a joint development agreement for utility revenue sharing with Onion River Solar LLC.
New York-based solar developer Ranger Power is proposing a 1,000 to 1,200-acre facility on land to be leased from local property owners in the northwest part of the township.
The agreement provides for Ranger Power to provide annual payments in lieu of taxes to the county and the town, as it will take agricultural land out of the property tax base.
The county should receive about $350,000 a year over the expected 30-to-35-year life of the facility, while the town, school district and Lakeshore Technical College district will share in the rest of the estimated annual payment of $600,000.
David Huenink, chair of the town of Holland Plan Commission, spoke in support of the joint development agreement.
“You are not voting on approval or disapproval of this specific project,” Huenink pointed out. By state law, that approval belongs to the state Public Service Commission and not to the town or the county.
The agreement includes maintenance, restoration and decommissioning provisions which Huenink said would protect the town and neighboring property owners.
For example, he said, Ranger Power is required to set aside funds to restore the land housing the panels to agricultural use after its expected 30-to-35-year life span ends.
“We believe (this agreement) provides protections we need,” Huenink concluded.
The PSC is expected to rule on Ranger Power’s application by next summer, after which work is expected to begin on the solar farm.
According to Ranger Power’s website, “Rows of photovoltaic panels, surrounded by prairie grasses and pollinators compatible with grazing and beekeeping, would be located on the open and sunny portions of the land of private landowners who have chosen to participate in the project. Rows would be separated by 16-20 feet.
“Panels are advanced models of those that have been used for years on houses and commercial buildings and would be arranged on racks that rotate to track the sun. The facility will be designed to prevent glare and to minimize noise. Panels would be kept a minimum of 150 feet or more from neighboring houses. The electricity generated would be transmitted to a Wisconsin-based electric utility using an existing electric transmission substation on Risseeuw Road,” the website continues.
It is projected that the Onion River Solar farm could provide power for from 25,000 to 30,000 homes.
• • •
The board approved the $150.7 million 2021 county budget.
The budget, which reduces spending by 4.9 percent, calls for an increase of 1.6 percent in the property tax level to $51.4 million, but will result in a property tax rate of $4.96 per $1,000 of valuation, a decrease of 5 percent.
“We have once again met the target you laid out for us,” in the budget, Deputy County Administrator Alayne Bosman told the supervisors.
Bosman was filling in for County Administrator Adam Payne, who was absent from the meeting. Payne is self-quarantining after a co-worker was confirmed with COVID-19.
• • •
“The good news is as (property) values go up tax rates go down,” County Administrator Adam Payne had said earlier. “We’re seeing some nice growth (in the county) but we’re not just taking that and spending more.”
Payne had noted that, since 2010, the increase in the county tax levy has averaged just 1.24 percent annually.
He contrasted that with the situation more than two decades ago when the county saw tax rate percent increases in double digits several years.
He attributed the improved budget situation to the county’s process of setting annual budget goals and departments working to meet those goals.
“We’ve got something good going thanks to collaboration that’s contributed to cost savings and efficiency,” Payne had said.
He noted that, despite the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the county is on pace to meet its projected revenue from the half-percent county sales tax this year and that sales tax revenue is up 7.7 percent from last year.
There was only one speaker at the initial public hearing on the budget, town of Rhine resident Hans Kuhn.
Kuhn urged the county to pursue what he termed “crisis intervention” measures outside of the Sheriff’s Department.
“I really think that is an initiative that needs to be promoted. There are (mental health) needs that have to be met by Sheboygan County,” Kuhn said, referencing areas such as mental health issues, drug issues and health care response in rural areas.
Kuhn said that should be a greater focus for the county than expanding the detention center.