John Rogers’ family has farmed in Jackson County for 75 years. Their roots are planted deep in the county where they’ve lived since the 1830s.
Now, he plans to give up some of that land to make way for more than 5,000 acres of solar panels.
The Ganado School Board voted Wednesday on whether it would enter into a Chapter 313 agreement with any of Savion energy’s three Jackson County projects, Lunis Creek Solar Project, Lunis Creek Solar Project II, and Flag City Solar Project. Under this type of tax agreement, a business agrees to build or install property and create jobs in exchange for a 10-year limitation on the taxable property value for school district maintenance and operations tax purposes.
Citing Texas’ high property taxes, Savion officials said that without the agreement the solar energy project will probably not be able to move forward in the state.
“In the event a 313 agreement is not permitted, Savion will re-allocate the capital for this project to establish a facility in another location more financially viable,” Savion officials wrote in its application for the agreement. “Unfortunately, this would dismiss Ganado ISD from receiving the economic benefits associated with the development (of) a solar facility within their jurisdiction.”
This isn’t the first time a solar energy project has created tension with its neighbors in the Crossroads.
Victoria County residents are asking the county commissioners not to grant tax abatements to Sunshine Energy, which has plans to build a 1,700 acre solar energy farm near Wood Hi. A 313 agreement for the project is also being considered.
In Calhoun County, neighbors of Swift Current Energy also have raised complaints.
With 3,420 megawatts of solar power installed, Texas ranks 4th in solar power producers and the most recent growth forecast estimates 13,478 megawatts will be added in the next five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Roger Duncan, a recently retired research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute, said solar energy companies are setting up shop in Texas because of the declining cost of solar power per kilowatt hour. Demand is expected to rise as a consequence.
Incentive programs are also bolstering projects. The program under which counties can offer companies the tax breaks, originally set to expire last year, was extended until 2029.
Like neighbors of the other solar projects, Robyn Novak, a Jackson County resident, thinks the project will harm the environment and the agricultural economy.
She started the Facebook group Ganado Against the Solar Farms for neighbors such as sisters Kay Burtschell and Nancy Guidry to voice their concerns.
The two women have had family in the area for generations. They said the original plan for panels to come up to their lot has changed, but that the panels will still be a visual scar on their lifelong homes.
“It’s not going to be surrounding us like we thought, but it’s going to hurt our neighbors,” Guidry said.
The movement against the solar farms is backed by Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin. On its website, the foundation said it opposes renewable energy projects because it dislikes substantial tax credits to companies, fears that the grid will be strained by sources “that cannot guarantee electricity when Texans most need it” and distrust companies to maintain environmental quality.
Leslie Sopko, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, said foundation’s claim regarding grid strain is inaccurate.
“ERCOT has evolved its technical requirements and market rules, as well as developed new analytical and monitoring tools, to manage a diverse resource mix while maintaining system reliability and market efficiency,” Sopko said in a statement.
Although, as the foundation states, the project may result in a lack of investment in natural gas and coal-fired plants, advocates of the solar energy project such as Rogers said the investment would create a net positive for kids in the Ganado school district.
Rogers, a member of the VISD Education Foundation’s board of directors, considers himself to be a proponent of public education. He said he supports the project because taxes collected from the project will go into Ganado school district’s funds for discretionary spending, which he said is used to hire teachers, among other district needs.
“I’ve been trying to educate the community on what it means to the school district,” he said. “When you have an opportunity to increase your tax base without bringing a lot of people into town, that’s a good thing.”