Haywood extends token to Canton solar farm

FLS Solar Energy wants a tax break from Haywood County in exchange for an $8 million solar farm the company is building near Canton.

FLS is asking county commissioners for financial incentives that would allow the company to pay 20 percent of the taxes on the equipment it uses to operate for five years, saving FLS $6,400 a year or a total of $32,000.

Through the program, FLS would pay the total equipment tax up front, then receive a grant for 80 percent of the bill from the county.

The company’s request has received the endorsement of the Haywood County Economic Development Commission, though it’s not exactly in line with the intent of creating jobs. The solar farm will only create 12 jobs, most of them during the design, development and installation stages, said FLS president Michael Shore.

However, EDC officials believe the county will reap more benefits from the project than just job creation.

“This is kind of unusual because this really won’t create jobs, but you kind of have to look to the future,” said EDC director Mark Clasby. “This will bring recognition and awareness that Haywood County is interested in green initiatives.”

While the amount may not seem like much, it will make all the difference to FLS, Shore said. FLS will have to pay back money put up by investors — about half the total project cost — within a five-year period, making for very thin profit margins, said Shore. Financial incentives from the county will help the project make it through the lean time.

“This allows us for it to be a profitable project in the first five years,” Shore said. “Starting year six, the margins of the project improve significantly, so we’re happy to pay our fair share of taxes at that point.”

FLS has signed a 25-year contract with Progress Energy to sell solar power generated at the Haywood site, guaranteeing that the company will be shelling out full property taxes for at least a 20-year period.

“Over the lifetime of the project, we anticipate paying at least $180,000 in taxes,” said Shore.

Shore says that by providing tax breaks for FLS, Haywood County could position itself as a good place to locate a green startup.

“In the Southeast, it’s up for grabs where the leadership (in alternative energy) is going to come from,” he said. “Now, Haywood County has the opportunity to put itself on the map as a leader in this new green economy.”

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