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County hopes to spur renewable energy

Jackson County hopes to spur the production of renewable energy through a new development zone that would offer property tax incentives.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday authorized County Administrator Danny Jordan to submit an application to the Oregon Business Development Department for the proposed zone.

The Rural Renewable Energy Development Zone would cover the whole county — except for Medford and land within that city's urban growth boundary. The Medford area is not included because it has a population of more than 30,000 people and is not considered rural by the state, Jordan said.

Businesses that generate electricity through renewable sources such as wind, geothermal, solar and biomass could have property taxes waived for three to five years on new facilities and equipment. Storage and distribution facilities for biodiesel, ethanol and similar fuels could also be covered, county staff said.

"This is new ground and it's interesting and exciting," said Commissioner John Rachor.

Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said it's important to find new ways to encourage the production of renewable energy.

Promoting renewable energy can help increase employment, raise area incomes, attract investment and diversify the local economy, county staff members said.

"Alternative energy is an emerging industry and is fast-growing," said Jackson County Development Services Director Kelly Madding.

She said businesses that build renewable energy facilities must still comply with applicable land use regulations.

Also on Wednesday, commissioners authorized Jordan to submit an application to the state to expand the existing Jackson County Enterprise Zone.

The enterprise zone provides property tax breaks for three to five years for new construction and equipment.

It applies mainly to manufacturing and other industrial businesses that build or expand facilities or install new equipment. Retail businesses are not covered.

Launched in 2007, the enterprise zone now covers portions of the county plus areas in and around communities that include Rogue River, Butte Falls, White City, Ashland, Talent and Eagle Point.

The county proposes to add new areas, including portions of Central Point, Phoenix, Gold Hill and more county land, including the Jackson County Expo fairgrounds area.

"We think it's wise the county has chosen to include the Expo in the lands as well," said Central Point Community Development Director Tom Humphrey. "We think it will be well received by the business community."

As the city closest to the Expo, Central Point has a financial stake in the success of the area.

Gold Hill City Manager Rick Hohnbaum said including part of Gold Hill in the enterprise zone could help spur economic development.

One downside to both the renewable energy and enterprise zones is that taxing districts cannot receive property tax revenue off qualifying new development during the three to five year period.

However, when the property tax breaks expire, the new development is taxed and boosts revenue for jurisdictions.

Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. — also known as SOREDI — estimates the Jackson County Enterprise Zone has helped create 328 new jobs and added $83.3 million worth of new buildings and equipment to the county.

SOREDI manages the enterprise zone for the county and would manage the renewable energy zone.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or by email at valdous@mailtribune.com.

Biomass One in White City creates renewable energy from wood waste. Jackson County plans to create a Rural Renewable Energy Development Zone that would give tax breaks to businesses creating renewable energy. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch