Myron Sutton – Regional Manager
St. Joseph County elected officials took extraordinary steps to ensure that their local workforce, and those from surrounding counties, will be hired in the new construction of a multi-million-dollar solar development farm, the Honeysuckle Solar Project. The Honeysuckle Solar Project is a $164 million-dollar development that will encompass 1,000 acres of farmland throughout western St. Joseph County, Indiana. The project will create around 200 construction jobs and the county is expected to benefit from an
additional $27.4 million in generated taxes within the first 25 years of its existence. County officials and solar developers negotiated for months before reaching an agreement. Ultimately, this agreement will generate a stimulus to the local workforce and community in addition to developing a long-term solar project with lasting economic benefits.
With federal tax incentives for large corporations and commercial developers coupled with calls for more investments in green energy, solar farm developers are visiting local communities across the nation in hopes of fast-tracking new solar projects. Unfortunately, developers are oftentimes out-of-state investors who offer local bodies great incentives and promises of hiring local workers that do not always come to fruition. Out-of-state developers often keep workforce development requirements and commitments vague, allowing them to use out-of-state contractors who use out-of-state workers to complete construction of such projects.
If public bodies are not vigilant in their due diligence, the process could be a negative and costly experience to their local workforce. For example, County Commissioners in Sullivan County had to revoke a solar developer’s tax incentive who did not meet the contractual agreement to use the local workforce. The project was ultimately completed using little to no local workers during the construction of the solar farm. The Sullivan County Commissioners wound up in court, but the matter should not have resulted in litigation in the first place.
In addition, a $1.5 billion solar development called Mammoth Solar is currently being built across 1,300 acres in Starke and Pulaski counties. Even though the developer and contractor of the project was provided a list of 25 local contractors during the preconstruction phase, the developer decided to engage a global hiring agency to recruit out-of-state workers online. Not one of the local contractors were invited to bid. Instead, the developer ultimately brought in out-of-state workers from as far away as California, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Florida.
The Mammoth Solar Project has unfortunately had more issues than just hurting local taxpayers and undercutting local wage and benefit standards by hiring out-of-state workers. One traveling worker from Florida, a supervisor for an out-of-town contractor, was arrested for a sexual battery felony offense against an underaged youth in Pulaski County. Sadly, communities who jump at the first opportunity to sign on with developers who are purposely ambiguous about using the local workforce but are touting large “investment costs” or “jobs” are the communities missing out on the opportunity to create local jobs that stimulate the economy.
In contrast, a story published in WISBusiness.com, a Wisconsin Business publication, put things into perspective on just how the Honeysuckle Solar Project local worker agreement will benefit St. Joseph County and the surrounding local economy. The story found that due to few workers needing to operate and maintain solar farms in the long-term, that the vast majority of the economic impact of solar projects comes from the construction phase. Research estimates that hiring local workers during the construction phase of solar farm projects generates about $11.8 million in economic activity to the region, while hiring out-of-state workers only brings between $4.6 million to $6.8 million. This is because local workers spend their incomes back into local businesses, pay local taxes, and live in the community.
Recognizing the benefits of hiring local workers, the renewable energy developer Savion, who is currently developing a $120 million 900-acre solar project in Elkhart County has also recently made a written commitment to hiring local workers. The III FFC wishes to commend the elected officials of St. Joseph County and the developers of the Honeysuckle Solar Project and Savion for their foresight to negotiate a development that will not only be successful, but also maximize true incentives to local workers, businesses, and communities.
From the Fall/Winter 2022 Issue of The Monitor.