Solar firm overlooks forms, hit with $1 million tax bill

By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

VALE – A national solar company missed a local tax deadline that could cost it $1 million.

Cyprus Creek Renewables owns and manages six solar farms in Malheur County. The farms generate power sold to Idaho Power. The company bought the assets of from the Coronal Group in late 2015.

Cyprus Creek, a national company with offices in North Carolina, California and Arizona and assets of $2 billion, states it is the largest and fastest-growing dedicated provider of local solar farms and currently supplies over 5 gigawatts of local solar farms deployed or in development.

The company is eligible to have property taxes on its Malheur County projects forgiven for five years if its win designation for the property as part of a rural renewable energy development zone. The Malheur County Court approves such requests.

Coronal Group had not sought the designation and Cyprus Creek belatedly filed for it.

“Cyprus Creek recently purchased the solar projects from a different company and there was confusion about if or when the proper paperwork had been filed,” said Jeff McKay, spokesman for Cyprus Creek. “The renewable energy development zone helps companies like ours make strategic investments in rural communities and this program is important for our continuing operations.”

County officials said they alerted the company to the potential tax bill.

“I made multiple phone calls to Cyprus Creek before the tax bills were mailed out trying to get them to send in the paperwork,” said Dave Ingram, Malheur County assessor.

The company missed an Aug. 30 deadline to apply to the county to continue the tax exemption.

When Cyprus Creek filed for the exemption on Nov. 1, a number of required forms were missing.

“I called them and said the packet was incomplete,” Ingram said. “I still have not received anything back from them.”

The company was billed $1 million, the amount due for the year’s taxes on the six tax lots.

Cyprus Creek last week requested the Malheur County Court step into the fray and grant the exemption. The court wasn’t receptive to forgiving the oversight.

“I support Dave and his office,” said Commissioner Don Hodge.

Ingram explained to the court that Cyprus Creek could seek help from the Oregon Department of Revenue to remedy the problem.

“We’re actively working with Malheur County Economic Development and the county assessor’s office, and county commission to figure out how we can move forward and that likely includes the Department of Revenue,” McKay said. “We recently made a one-third payment before Nov. 15 as a show of good faith.”

If the Department of Revenue makes a favorable decision for Cyprus Creek, the option of lessening the burden still remains with Ingram.

Oregon state code states the Department of Revenue can recommend action to a county assessor but can’t override the county’s ultimate decision.

Ingram said he is willing to look at a recommendation from the state, but stands by the actions his office has taken.

“I was on numerous conference calls with Cyprus Creek about this issue,” he said. “They just failed to take action and get this office the required paperwork.”

McKay said the company would see how the current situation plays out to consider how to proceed in future years. Cyprus Creek was provided a five-year abatement of property taxes with this oversight taking place in year one. Four years remain on the agreement.

“We’ll make that decision once we know the results of our request for the first year,” he said. “We’re not required to submit future paperwork until each year the work is done, but we intend to do so as part of the agreement with the county.”

The big winner could be the Vale School District. Although Ingram did not have firm numbers, the district may receive more money than originally expected. Other county agencies also could benefit.