As Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Legislature and our congressional delegation deal with oil and gas concerns and potential economic consequences of President Joe Biden’s fossil fuel policies, alternative energy opportunities and options are important. We won’t be losing our oil and gas status any time soon, but we know the shift toward other energy sources is coming.
That makes alternative energy more economically feasible, even in an oil-and-gas producing state.
Agree or disagree with Biden’s plans — including limiting Gulf of Mexico drilling, delaying offshore leasing and mapping underground oil and gas reservoirs in less intrusive ways — at least we know something about what the president is doing and how the governor and others are responding.
It is troubling that major, large-scale solar projects are wending their way through the state’s Department of Natural Resources quietly without much public attention.
It took Advocate reporter Kristen Mosbrucker making a public records request for the public to learn about significant projects. Though nothing is certain about the viability of these efforts, it’s important that we know who is planning to do what, where and with what benefit to taxpayers. The property tax exemptions in current state law are generous and extend for up to 10 years.
Though most of these projects are being targeted for private property in rural areas, we believe the public deserves to know more since each is seeking state and local support with economic incentives. Technically, each has been open by being included on the public economic incentive portal. But the site isn’t user-friendly. Legal but obscure business names are listed rather than the names the firms use when conducting business.
The state Board of Commerce and Industry has long been a rubber-stamp for tax breaks, but more questions are now being raised about them — and the board approved contracts for 10-year tax breaks for solar farms after previously voting to pause new incentives. Some of the utility-scale solar projects drew criticism in this year’s session of the Legislature.
Seven proposed solar project agreements call for a collective $1 billion investment. There’s a chance that one or more of these projects won’t be constructed, but the shift toward alternative sources of energy make them sounder business prospects than in the past. Leasing private land is speculative, but the financial reward of selling the electricity generated would be well worth it.
The latest plans roughly double the number of solar power projects planned in Louisiana to more than a dozen.
State records show that previously undisclosed projects seeking economic incentives include three in the St. James Parish community of Vacherie and one each in Thibodaux, Bogalusa, Singer and Franklinton. The projects would support hundreds of construction jobs but create only a handful of permanent jobs once completed.
The proposed projects include Kontiki Holdings LLC planning a $145 million project in Beauregard Parish; Bogalusa West PV I LLC planning a $200 million project in Bogalusa; Thibodaux Solar Project LLC planning a $200 million project in Lafourche Parish; a $56 million project in Washington Parish; Vacherie Solar Energy Center planning an $89 million project; St. James Solar III LLC planning a $100 million project in Vacherie, and St. Jacques Solar LLC planning a $134 million project in Vacherie.
The public deserves more information about utility-scale solar farms, amid such a significant shift in energy sources that help fuel our state’s economy.