Silicon Ranch — the company with ties to former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration — has applied for a solar tax break that is sure to fan the flames of debate over the economic development incentive’s future, reports the Nashville Business Journal.
The company’s founders include Bredesen and major economic development players from his administration, Matt Kisber and Reagan Farr. They spearheaded the passage of the tax break in 2010 aimed at encouraging the fledgling solar industry.
In the 2012 Tennessee General Assembly, some Republicans had planned to alter the tax arrangement in part because they were suspicious after those who put it in place started a solar company. Since then, Silicon Ranch has made eight applications for green energy certification, a stamp necessary to receive the tax break, according to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation records.
…Kisber and Farr said the company had not planned previously to apply for the tax credit — or any other incentive they had advocated — unless a new legislature and administration affirmed the legitimacy of a Bredesen-era policy. Farr, who served as Bredesen’s revenue commissioner, said the Republicans’ ultimate decision not to alter the policy “reaffirmed” it and led the company to consider applying.
Silicon Ranch, the solar venture tied to former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and his economic development team, has begun work on what it says will be the state’s largest privately owned solar installation, according to the Nashville Business Journal. The $5 million, 1.4 megawatt solar power plant in Pulaski will ultimately be part of a larger Pulaski Energy Park, according to a statement from the company. That park, set for construction on 25 acres owned by Silicon Ranch, will include classrooms, administrative and service space, according to the company.
Executives cast the move as a step forward in the green economy.
“Our intent is to provide low-cost solar energy with a focus on creating green jobs and increasing capital investments in clean energy here in our state,” Matt Kisber, president and CEO, said in a statement.
The facility is the first deal the company has made public since its formation. In August, the Nashville Business Journal revealed the company’s business model, following quiet maneuvering by Kisber and his team that first became publicly known as Bredesen, a Democrat, left office.
Mike Morrow asked Matt Kisber, former commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, about the Amazon deal over the weekend.
An excerpt from his resulting TNReport:
When asked Saturday night at the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville if the Amazon agreement was in writing, Kisber gave a long pause. “I don’t actually remember,” he said, then taking another pause. “I really don’t. I don’t know if we got an MOU (memorandum of understanding). That’s so far back now, in terms of what I’ve been dealing with, I don’t … I don’t honestly remember. I would have to defer to the current administration.
“I remember the discussions. I remember everything we discussed, but I don’t remember if it got … if there was a written agreement or not.”
Kisber and former Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr have launched Silicon Ranch Corporation, a solar power development business, since leaving office. Bredesen is chairman of the operation.
Richard Roberts, current revenue commissioner under Gov. Bill Haslam, has refused to comment on Amazon’s deal, citing policies that prevent him from discussing agreements with private taxpayers.
Kisber said the project was in the works for many months and that there were multiple discussions involved in the deal. He recalled people on the site selection team, both on the consultant side and the company side, in the dealings with Amazon.
…Kisber said the issue, as it was explained to him, involved third-party handling of the products being sold.
“I was told we were not talking about Amazon books and CDs. We were talking about companies for whom Amazon provides fulfillment services through their Internet platform,” Kisber said. “There are hundreds of companies that you buy from if you use Amazon that is not being sold by Amazon but is being fulfilled (by Amazon).
“And Tennessee has other companies that provide that type of service as well. This was consistent in my thinking with the services of those types of companies.”
Kisber complimented Haslam’s handling of the issue.
“Whenever an economic development project becomes political theater, it impacts the state’s reputation for business,” Kisber said. “And I commend Governor Haslam for working to resolve the issue and tone down the rhetoric so Tennessee can focus on its wonderful business climate and using that to attract projects to the state.”
Kisber attributed his inability to recall specific details on the Amazon deal to the passage of time since he worked for the State of Tennessee.
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday he will meet with the state’s former jobs chief in an effort to learn what deals former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration struck when recruiting Amazon and Electrolux to Tennessee.
From Andy Sher’s report: “This whole Amazon tax issue, that they’re not paying sales tax, I just don’t think that’s something that should ever have been agreed to — apparently it’s agreed to,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters.
“I think those types of programs in the future are going to be looked at very closely before we do it again,” he said.
Ramsey, however, repeated earlier statements he has made that “we’ll honor it.”
He said Matt Kisber, the former economic and community development commissioner, has agreed to meet with him next week.
“I want to know what did we agree to, what’s in writing, what’s not in writing,” Ramsey said.
Efforts to reach Kisber were unsuccessful. Earlier this week, attempts were unsuccessful in reaching Bredesen about the Amazon deal.
By Richard Locker of the Commercial Appeal
The state Senate began the process today of removing three members of the Tennessee Board of Regents who did not attend a two-day Senate committee hearing last summer which examined the board’s selection of a new chancellor.
Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, filed Senate Resolution 29 this week that would remove Regents Jonas Kisber of Jackson and Agenia Clark and Robert P. Thomas of Nashville. The Senate approved the resolution on the first of three required readings today, although first and second readings of bills occur routinely and only the third vote is decisive.
If it occurs, it will be the first time since the Board of Regents was created by the legislature in 1972 that a member has been removed by the legislature. Members of the regents who are not state officials serve without pay and are appointed by the governor for six-year terms.
The resolution is the latest flare-up in a political battle that erupted last August when the Board of Regents selected former state Comptroller John Morgan as chancellor of the state university and community college system that the board oversees. The system includes the University of Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis and all state higher education institutions outside of the University of Tennessee system.