Solar energy bursts forward.

Jay County Council preliminarily approved tax abatements for Rose Gold Solar and Sun Chief Solar projects Wednesday, and it discussed potential economic development agreements with both companies planning energy farms in the county.

Council members also approved the 2022 budget on its final reading.

Leeward Renewable Energy is planning Rose Gold Solar, a $150 million, 150-megawatt facility on approximately 1,340 acres just north of Dunkirk. Scout Clean Energy –– it owns and operates Bitter Ridge Wind Farm in southwest Jay County –– is planning Sun Chief Solar, a $100 million, 100-megawatt facility on about 1,200 acres in in the same area as the existing wind farm just northeast of Redkey.

Greg Balsano of consulting Baker Tilly explained Wednesday to council members that Rose Gold Solar is expected to generate just under $42 million in property taxes over its 35-year life. Leeward will save about $7 million in property taxes with the proposed abatement. It is expected to ultimately result in an additional $68.1 million in assessed value as well as reduced tax rates around the county.

A less extensive project because it will be connected to the same transmission line as Bitter Ridge, Sun Chief Solar will generate an expected more than $24 million in property taxes over its 35-year life, Balsano continued. Scout will save about $3.8 million in property taxes with the proposed abatement.

Sun Chief is expected to result in an additional $68.1 million in assessed value for the county while Sun Chief will result in an additional $38.9 million in assessed value.

Economic development agreements are also in the works with both companies, with Leeward proposing $1.95 million total given to the county over a four-year period and Scout offering $1.129 million total paid in five annual installments.

Both proposed solar projects have approved road use and decommissioning agreements with the county from earlier this year. Jay County Plan Commission also found Rose Gold Solar to be compliant with the county’s solar ordinance. (Sun Chief Solar’s meeting with plan commission is tentatively set for November, although project manager Zach Lasek noted Wednesday it may be pushed to December.)

A third company, Invenergy, has already agreed on a final tax abatement, along with road use, decommissioning and economic development agreements with the county.

Invenergy’s plans for “Skycrest Solar” include a $150 million, 155-megawatt facility located on about 2,500 acres in Penn and Jackson townships. Invenergy’s abatement will save the company about $5.8 million in property taxes over a 10-year period. The solar farm is expected to increase the county’s assessed value by about $55 million. Over the course of four years, Invenergy will also make about $1.75 million in economic development payments to the county.

Council member Ted Champ commented he was not an advocate of having wind turbines in Jay but said he is supportive of the solar panels and the economic developmental impact they will generate.

“We don’t have factories coming into here, we don’t have the luxury of competing even for that,” Champ noted.

Council members Mike Rockwell, Ray Newton, Harold Towell, Houchins and Champ, absent Matt Minnich and Faron Parr, then voted to preliminarily approve the tax abatement requests.

Also Wednesday, council locked in next year’s budget at $20.18 million.

The total amount, $20,180,008, is up 5.4% or just over $1 million from the current year. About $9.44 million of that amount is in the general fund, an increase from this year’s general fund total of $8.66 million.

Other major fund totals include $4.54 million for the highway department –– it includes money from the state for the Local Motor Vehicle Highway fund –– $2.69 million for commissioners, $2.52 million for Jay Emergency Medical Service, $1.44 million for Jay County Jail and $1.07 million for Jay County Sheriff’s Office.

The higher budget in 2022 is mainly attributed to county employee wages increasing next year. (In July, council approved giving raises between 2% to 6% depending on the worker’s classification.) It also includes $195,000 for a new highway department dump truck approved by council and commissioners earlier this year and small increases for equipment (such as computer maintenance), supplies and other items.