Walker County Economic and Industrial Development Authority President David Knight says, “This is a game changer and a significant shot in the arm for Walker County.”
Words by Al Blanton | Images by Ryan McGill and Al Blanton
For many years, local citizens have been waiting for a “tipping point” to push Walker County over the hump and into a new frontier of success. It may have occurred on Monday when the Walker County Commission approved a tax abatement for Inkga Investments, a Swedish company intending to build solar farms on property the company currently owns in the county. The installations will be on property that has been strip mined, and the effort is branded “Project Helios,” which represents a global investor in the green energy sector doing business right here in our backyard.
“This would be a major solar installation here in rural Walker County,” said David Knight, who presented before the Commission on Monday. “Project Helios is proposing between three and five solar farm installations, each with a capital investment averaging around $175 million. This project presents a groundbreaking opportunity for growth, development, and, critically, for investment in Walker County.”
Knight estimates the total capital investment in Walker County could be between $525-875 million, depending on the number of solar farm installations the company decides on. Knight says the project “represents by far the single largest capital investment potential in Walker County history.”
The Walker County Commission approved the abatement request unanimously, and several community leaders on hand expressed their delight at the Commission’s approval.
One such entity that stands to benefit is the Walker County School System. Tom Brinkley, a lawyer at Maynard Nexsen law firm in Birmingham who is working on the project, estimates that county schools could see a $20 million impact for the first 20 years. That number could increase depending on the length of the project. Projects of this nature, Brinkley said, are “35-40-year projects.”
Unanimity was present between commissioners and the commission chair. District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis echoed the project’s scope, saying that “hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested,” and underscored the revenue generation for the county school systems. District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burrough called it a “huge step” for Walker County. District 3 Commissioner Jim Borden said, “This is good for education, our tax base will expand, and this project will be a major shot in the arm for the southern part of the county. “District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt emphasized that the county could have ancillary benefits from the project and is hopeful that Walker County can be at the forefront of this energy source in the future. Commission Chair Steve Miller stated, “As we began to learn about this project and moving forward with Mr. Knight…this Commission was just very excited about what was coming for Walker County.”
Miller stressed the Commission’s desire for solvency and belief that it is now attainable with the current project providing a significant economic impact.
Statewide leaders also expressed approval for the project. State Senate Pro Tempore Greg Reed issued the following statement: “Project Helios, a $525 million investment in Walker County, is an incredible economic development opportunity for our community and state. We’re expecting great potential for new job creation and an impressive economic impact through these energy projects. With this substantial investment in our community, Helios will directly benefit our local school systems and families across Walker County. I look forward to continuing to support economic growth through projects such as this in Senate District 5 and across the state of Alabama.”
“I would like to express my gratitude to the Walker County Commission for their business-friendly approach towards industrial development,” said District 14 State Representative Matt Woods. “These incentives will not only contribute to job creation, but also foster significant investment in our community. The Walker County Development Authority has displayed commendable collaboration with the Commission regarding the Helios project. I am deeply appreciative of the strong partnership between these two organizations, as it will greatly benefit our community.”
According to Alabama State Law, the education portion of the project can never be abated, meaning the education system will always get its full allocation of funding.
“I just want to say I appreciate the work of David Knight and his team to bring this forward,” said Walker County Schools Superintendent Dennis Willingham. “I appreciate the work of the County Commission to make this possible. This will benefit our school system for many years to come.”
According to Knight, the property abatement is a 20-year abatement, and the sales tax abatement approved by the Commission is an “until placed in service” abatement, meaning the abatements will expire once the job is complete.
During his presentation, Knight praised the work of the Commission. “Your support of economic development is critical to everything we do. Without the support of this body here, the efforts of the Walker County Development Authority wouldn’t gain any traction at all.” WL