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RICL proposes single payment in exchange for full tax abatement

Morris High would get $1.7 million

The Morris Community High School District 101 Board had discussions on a preliminary agreement the district could have with Rock Island Clean Line if its transmission line project comes through.

Clean Line Energy Partners is planning to install part of its transmission line in Grundy County to deliver wind energy from areas of the Midwest to the east. The company is looking to bring its Rock Island Clean Line to deliver 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy to communities that do not have easy access to wind energy.

In October, it submitted a new application with the Illinois Commerce Commission for both public utility status and for approval to construct the line on its chosen route. Grundy County will be the end of this line, where the energy is converted into usable voltage and run through the old Collins substation to move the power east. The project also includes the construction of a $250 million converter station.

Superintendent Dr. Pat Halloran told the board during its regular meeting Monday that currently, the property only generates about $186 a year for the high school in taxes. If the project goes forward, the district will receive a one-time payment of $1,755,000.

If the ICC approves the project, the converter station is planned to be constructed in Grundy County's Economic Development Project Area No. 1. The EDPA was designed to ease the impact of the county’s machinery and equipment tax, which taxes machinery and equipment as real property.

The tax zone allows the county to negotiate taxes for eligible projects, creating a new investment in the zone. The equalized assessed value of the area is frozen for up to 23 years, and tax money made following the freeze goes into a fund used for rebates for machinery and equipment costs.

In addition to using the zone, Clean Line and the county are working with Will County to extend an enterprise zone expansion to cover the converter station, said Halloran.

With this, the Illinois Enterprise Zone Act enables taxing districts to abate a portion of their taxes for new development within the zone.

If the district abates its taxes, in return it gets the $1.7 million payment. Saratoga School will get around $2.4 million, said Halloran.

In the agreement, Morris High would abate 100 percent of the taxes it would be owed until 2032, the end of the life of the zone. After that, it would abate 50 percent of its owed taxes until 2042.

The project isn't expected to come online until 2016 or 2017, said Halloran.

"We would take those dollars and invest them . . . where we would receive $117,000 a year to make up for that revenue (the district would have received in taxes)" said Halloran. "We would try to earn interest on it and create a situation of a steady revenue stream."

Morris High would receive the large payment within 45 days of the commissioning of the converter station, according to the preliminary contract.

The $1.7 million number is set, said Halloran. But the project itself is still an issue with the community, said board member Judie Roth.

People and organizations objecting to the project, including the Illinois Farm Bureau, are concerned that Clean Line is a private company, not a public utility company. Attorney for the farm bureau has previously said Illinois wind farms cannot tap into Clean Line 's transmission lines, therefore they should not be given public utility status, which could lead to the power of eminent domain — the ability to take private property.

But from the school district's perspective, the income that could be used in any fund would greatly benefit the school's budget.

"It's pretty exciting potential for some economic development for us and some steady revenue," said Halloran.

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