Planned solar farm could affect local farmers

The initial framework for a bank of solar panels stretch into a field along Wood Hi Road east of Victoria. Caprock Renewables plans to build a 1,700-acre solar panel farm at the site.

Farmers and residents along Wood Hi Road may soon have a new neighbor.

But some Victoria County residents aren’t excited about the plan for Caprock Renewables to build a 1,700-acre solar facility on several plots in the area.

“We’re hoping it’s going to fall through,” said Louise Johnson, who lives on the road. “We just don’t know what it’s going to do to the land.”

Johnson already knows the impact it’s having on local farmers such as her son, who used to farm a plot of land on Wood Hi Road before his lease was taken over by the company. Johnson said the bases of solar panels already have been built on land her son once farmed.

But she said the biggest impact will be on Dwayne Kainer, who farms 400 acres owned by Ann McClain and her brother. He has been farming the area for about 25 years. His home, which is next to the property, will be encircled by the solar field.

Kainer declined to be interviewed for the story.

Kyle McClain, Ann’s husband, said his wife and her brother already have signed over a lease for that 400 acres to Caprock Renewables.

They’re one of three or four area landowners who have signed leases to the company.

Kainer will be allowed to continue farming the land until Caprock says otherwise, McClain said.

If the solar project comes to fruition, it will be there for at least 35 years.

But the effects on farmers won’t stop there.

Neighbors, including Brett Mock, who owns and operates Vic-Cal Grain Company in Placedo, said he worries about the multiplier effect the out-of-commission farmland will have on the local farm economy during that time.

In a public complaint at the Dec. 16 Victoria County Commissioners meeting, local farmer Janice Ohrt said she worried about the impact on farm-related businesses like grain elevators, truck drivers and seed vendors.

Local economic development officials, on the other hand, say the effects will be worth the increase in the tax base.

“Even with some abatements in place, they would be a significant taxpayer,” Dale Fowler, president of the Victoria Economic Development Corp., said in December. “Additionally, all the land utilized would come off of agricultural exemption.”

The project is still pending as it waits for approval of a Chapter 313 agreement with Victoria school district. The company has also asked Victoria County Commissioners to consider a tax abatement.

In November, general manager of Caprock Renewables, Raina Hornaday, told the Advocate that receiving a tax abatement is critical to the fruition of the $120 million project.

Caprock Renewables did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

McClain said he and his wife aren’t against the farmers, and he hopes they recognize that they share the same roots.

“We’re not outsiders,” he said. “The land that my wife is leasing has been in the family for over 100 years.”

Chris Buzek, who lives and farms down the road from the proposed project, said local farmers are angry with the project because they watch out for each other.

“We’re a tight-knit community,” Buzek said. “When they affect one guy, it affects us all.”

Morgan O'Hanlon is the business and agriculture reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6328, or on Twitter @mcohanlon.

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(2) comments

Grace Butler

Glad to finally see some explanation of why farmers would be against it. It's essentially like being kicked out of your building because the owner wants to demolish it and build something else. It absolutely sucks for those people, but isn't one of the principles of our country that your property is yours to do with what you like, as long as it's not illegal? No one is being force to sell their property at bottom barrel rates like with imminent domain and the border wall, just a change in leasing.

I hope the farmers affected are able to find other land to utilize; I know it's a very tough life

Alonzo Salazar

But they’re fine with other folks losing their river front property to Trump’s border wall.

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