JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri task force wants to know more about solar farms and how they can be taxed.
Instead of a farm with corn, soybeans, or livestock, a solar energy farm is covered in solar panels. A new task force made up of lawmakers, local county tax assessors, and agriculture and renewable energy groups are working to resolve tax issues on renewable energy projects.
“Of course, I have driven down I-70, and it’s just goes on forever, as far as your eye can see in some areas,” Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said to the group Wednesday. “Thousands of acres of productive farmland is being up with solar panels.”
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According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are more than 400 megawatts of solar installed in the Show-Me State. That’s enough solar to power 44,598 homes. There are a total of 114 solar companies within the state, but less than .1% of the state’s electricity comes from solar.
“I’ve got some basic questions, for instance, how many megawatts do you get per acre?,” chairman of the task for Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summitt said during the meeting. “Another is the life of the panels. Is there an appreciation schedule on that the public should know? Does the industry have that?”
While Wednesday’s meeting was only organizational and no public testimony was taken, the task force was created after legislation was passed last year. The Task Force on Fair, Nondiscriminatory local Taxation Concerning Solar Energy Systems is tasked with putting a report together to find out the economic benefits and drawbacks of solar energy systems for local communities and the state.
“The biggest one [goal] of course is how we are going to assess these for local taxing jurisdictions,” Cierpiot said.
Other items the report must include under the legislation include compliance with existing federal and state programs and regulations, a fair and standardized assessment and taxation of solar energy systems and their equipment and potential legislation that would provide uniform assessments for the renewable energy.
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“Inevitably, what we don’t want to see is the solar industry doing it one way, some assessors doing it another way and some doing it another,” Christian County assessor Danny Gray said.
Gray is one of two assessors on the task force, along with Jefferson City assessor Bob Boyer.
“Those farms that are being leased out, the information on those leases would be beneficial as well to come up with for an income approach,” Boyer said.
Back in August, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a state law that allowed property tax exemptions for certain solar energy systems. The lawsuit involved a farm that supplied energy to Springfield. The ruling said the tax break wasn’t allowed under the state constitution, which means the company owes Green County hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.
“Once we hear from the assessors, I think we can mirror other states and build a formula,” executive director of the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association Jon Dolan said while explaining why the task force needs to find a formula that works across the board.. “Get to a point where megawatt this, formula this, on the demand, on the transmission, on the product and give you a piece of legislation that works very, very well.”
Dolan, also a member of the Missouri Public Service Commission, said Wednesday that solar panels cover a little more than 1% of the state’s farmland.
Back in 2017, the largest solar power farm in the state was built in southwest Missouri. The 72-acre farm near Nixa has more than 33,000 solar panels which generates 7.92 megawatts of AC power, roughly 9% of Nixa’s annual energy consumption. The facility is owned by Gardner Capital. Some on the task force though are concerned that solar panels taking up farmland is not a good idea.
“It would be one thing if they were placed on land that you’re not using for something else, but it’s another thing when it’s taking up productive farmland,” O’Laughlin said. “I don’t know if that matters to anyone else, but it does matter to me.”
The group plans to tour a solar farm next week before meeting in November to take public testimony. The goal is to submit a report to the General Assembly by the end of the year.