WBR Parish Council denies ITEP request for $240 million solar facility in 6-3 vote

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https://www.wbrparish.org/

PORT ALLEN, La. (The West Side Journal) – The West Baton Rouge Parish Council denied the Industrial Ad Valorem Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) request by a San Francisco-based firm looking to build a solar energy manufacturing facility north of Port Allen in Bueche. LED estimates the project represents a $240 million investment by the company.

Louisiana’s ITEP offers an attractive tax incentive for manufacturers who make a commitment to jobs and payroll in the state. Company representatives told the Parish Council that without the ITEP exemption, the project is not feasible.

“The sun shines everywhere,” Councilman Chris “Fish” Kershaw said. “So if this company wanted to move to Iberville, Pointe Coupee, any surrounding parish or put it somewhere else in the state, they absolutely can. This green energy is going to happen somewhere. It’s changing.”

With ITEP exemptions available in all of the parishes surrounding West Baton Rouge, the company may consider moving the project elsewhere.

Councilmembers Chris “Fish” Kershaw, Kenneth Gordon and Craig “Moonie” Bergeron cast votes to approve the application. Councilman Carey Denstel made the motion to deny, which Councilman Caleb Kleinpeter seconded.

Jason Manola, Chief of Administration for the Parish, said as of Friday, he has not received an update from the company on whether they plan to relocate or continue the project.

To proceed, the company will need approval from the Parish Council on a special use permit. That ordinance was introduced during the meeting, with a public hearing date set for May 27.

According to documents filed with LED, the solar farm would create 10 full-time jobs with an average salary of $60,000. Those ten positions were created this week, after council members and the public expressed concerns about the one permanent job the company originally proposed. The original application included one full-time position and the hiring of local contractors for repairs, maintenance and electrical work on the facility. On Thursday, the same day as the Parish Council meeting, Bueche PV1 changed its LED FastStart application to include 10 full-time positions in place of hiring contractors to make the project more appealing to the Parish Council.

Councilman Kleinpeter said the company should have included the 10 jobs from the beginning since the goal of ITEP is to create more jobs in the community. Kleinpeter also said the economic investment numbers are skewed because they do not take into consideration the loss of jobs, sales tax revenue and negative economic impact on the sugarcane industry with the loss of the sugar cane farm currently operating on the land.

The solar farm project would generate 47 times more tax revenue than the current sugar cane operation and eliminate between 1,500 and 1,700 truck hauls on roads surrounding the property. During the construction phase, the project is projected to generate about $4 million in sales tax revenue annually for two years. Once operating, the solar farm would generate roughly $200,000 in annual sales tax. The project, which would start in 2022 and finish up by the end of 2023, is expected to support more than 430 construction jobs.

The Bueche PV1 solar farm is the second-largest project to go before the Parish Council for ITEP consideration since 2017. The largest is the proposed $9.2 billion Gron Fuels complex at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge.

A video of the full meeting is available below. 

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The West Side Journal, located in Port Allen, Louisiana serves as the official journal of West Baton Rouge Parish. The newspaper’s roots run deep in the West Baton Rouge community, as the earliest dates of publication reach back to the mid-1800s.

The current editor is Breanna Smith, an alumna of Louisiana State University's Manship School of Mass Communication and native of Baton Rouge. Contributing writers to the Journal are members of the West Side community.

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