VALE — The Malheur County Court is expected to consider a resolution requesting designation of a rural renewable energy development zone at its next meeting.
The proposal is seen as an opportunity to improve the local economic base and business climate.
“We think this is going to be an additional tool we’ll be able to use to attract businesses to Malheur County,” said Greg Smith, executive director of the Malheur County Development Office.
A rural renewable energy development zone functions like an enterprise zone for project development related to wind power, geothermal, solar or other cases where a renewable energy resource is used to generate electricity or produce a biofuel, Smith said in information sent to taxing districts.
The designation request will be submitted to Business Oregon, the state’s economic development authority, for approval.
The proposed zone is countywide by statute and could affect future property tax collections in the various taxing districts, Smith said.
Malheur County has one zone in place, with a cap of $100 million for incentives. The county used $81 million of the $100 million when a geothermal plant, Neal Hot Springs, came into the area in 2012.
The Legislature has increased the zone cap to $250 million due to the high cost of some of the renewable energy projects, and Malheur County will be jumping on board with the cap increase.
Smith said increasing the tax incentive cap would help one company his office is currently working with, Helio Sage Energy, which plans to create six separate solar farms located near Ontario, Nyssa and Vale. The energy company plans to begin construction in 2016 or 2017, Smith said.
A rural renewable energy development zone exempts only new property that an eligible, job-creating business might install in the zone at some future time, he said. The exemption is temporary, usually lasting only three years, after which time the property is available for assessment. An extension to four or five years is possible in some cases with agreement of the local county governing body — in Malheur County’s case, the county court.
Any company that wants to take advantage of the rural energy development zone’s tax incentives must be creating jobs, and those jobs must go to Malheur County residents, Smith said. Companies are required to guarantee a certain wage every year for the duration of the exemption.
“This is an opportunity for us to assist business industry as they look to grow and expand in Malheur County,” Smith said. “We’re excited about the opportunities.”