BECKER -- It is still far from a done deal but the plan to attract tech giant Google to central Minnesota took another step forward Tuesday night.  The Becker City Council unanimously approved Google's 20-year tax abatement request.

The 5 to 0 vote from the city councilors comes just a week after the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a similar request.  During both public hearings, there wasn't a single person who spoke out against the project.

Becker has agreed to a tax abatement of about $312,000 a year, which is about $6.2 million over 20 years.  Sherburne County has agreed to an abatement of about $390,000 a year, or $7.8 million over 20 years.

It is not a full abatement because Google would still pay about $300,000 annually in taxes to the Becker school district.  The company was never seeking an abatement from the school, but as a matter of a formality, the district had to officially say 'no' to an abatement.

Google would also have to pay the approximately $15,000 each year in property taxes that are coming in now on the now vacant property.

There are still a few more steps to go in the process, which has been about three years in the making so far.  There is a bill that has been introduced in the State Legislature for $20.1 million in state money for upgrades to Becker's industrial park.  Community Development Director Marie Pflipsen says the bill has made it through a few committees in the House, but it has not progressed as far in the Senate.  The State Legislature is set to adjourn in mid-May.

Photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice

The Public Utilities Commission also needs to make a ruling on Xcel Energy's request to provide wind energy from their wind farms in the Dakotas to the data center in Becker.  They are expected to make their decision by the end of June.

If those two steps get approved, then it will be up to Google to make their decision.  Pflipsen says she does not have a timeline yet as to when construction could possibly begin.

Google is considering buying about 300 acres of land that is currently owned by Xcel Energy adjacent to their Sherco property.

The proposed 375,000 square foot data center, when fully operational, would create at least 50 new jobs with an annual average income of $80,000 a year.

City and county officials are trying to bring in new jobs ahead of the planned closings of the Sherco 1 and 2 coal-fired power plants, which will result in the direct loss of 150 jobs.

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