Delaware County officials hope a new designation makes the county more attractive to firms looking to make investments in solar, wind and other forms of alternative energy.

County commissioners last week voted to declare the entire county an "alternative energy zone."

Bob Lamb, the county's economic development director, said the designation creates an easier path for firms pursuing solar, wind and other energy projects to "significantly reduce" their personal and real property-tax burdens.

A law passed by the state legislature in 2011 exempted qualified alternative-energy projects from tangible personal property taxes. The law also allowed firms to substitute payments of between $6,000 and $9,000 per megawatt -- depending on the specifics of the project -- to the county treasurer in lieu of traditional property taxes on improvements made at project sites.

Lamb said the move was not a guarantee that any alternative-energy projects would be built in the county. He said the decision likely does make Delaware County a more-attractive home for investments in alternative energy and more competitive with counties that previously have adopted the designation.

"This helps (put) us on a level playing field with some of those counties in our surrounding area, including Franklin County," he said.

Lamb called the adoption of the designation "a countywide endeavor to lay the groundwork for the future."

Under the state law, county commissioners must vote to approve or reject each application to take advantage of the tax breaks.

But if the commissioners have declared the county an alternative energy zone, applications automatically receive county approval.

Lamb said this does not mean individuals or firms proposing alternative-energy projects bypass local boards and commissions ahead of construction.

"They would still need to go through all of the other approval processes," he said.

Commissioner Jeff Benton said the change makes it easier for firms to make alternative-energy investments in Delaware County.

"This sounds like a good project we ought to do to ... help economic-development activities," he said.