Representatives of a 1,400-acre “solar farm” being built off Harwood Road north of Gonzales met with county commissioners on Monday, May 9, to discuss progress on the project and the possibility of a future economic development incentive agreement.
Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, Va., is developing Starling Solar LLC, a 120-megawatt alternating current photovoltaic generation facility west of Farm-to-Market Road 794 and south of Interstate 10 in Gonzales County that is expected to generate enough energy to power more than 28,000 homes per year.
The project would use access to existing transmission lines on private land to deliver power into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) state electrical grid. It would also create part-time and full-time jobs during construction and operation of the solar farm, with a total investment expected to exceed $138 million.
“The project from a development standpoint is substantially complete and we are very excited to be a member of the Gonzales community,” said Courtney McReynolds, development manager for Apex.
McReynolds said “all environmental field work has been completed and we are not anticipating any further studies.” Meanwhile, a wetland delineation has been completed and “the project has be designed to avoid impacts to streams, wetlands and waterbodies.”
Field studies of possible raptor nests and other listed species were completed this spring and “the project is not anticipating impacts to state or federally listed species,” McReynolds said. In addition, a Phase 1 environmental site assessment was completed this spring and “no RECs (recognized environmental concerns) were identified within the project area,” nor are there any identified cultural features within the project area.
“Along with the environmental studies, all engineering field work has also been completed,” she added. “The aerial, geotechnical and the road evaluation surveys were conducted between the winter of 2021 and spring of 2022. The ALTA (American Land Title Association) boundary survey was finalized in April 2022. There were no red flags or negative reports and the project area is extremely compatible for a solar project.”
McReynolds said Starling Solar and Apex have joined the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture while sponsoring several local events, including Come and Take It Celebration, the Gonzales Youth Livestock Show and Gonzales High School Project Graduation, to date.
“We’ve also looked into sponsorship of the local youth soccer association and we are eagerly looking for more opportunities to help in the community,” McReynolds said.
Robert Peña, president of Edinburg-based Texas Energy Consultants, discussed with commissioners the desire to have Gonzales County work with Apex and Starling Solar on a Chapter 381 economic development agreement similar to one the county approved for BYK USA Inc. for a $50 million expansion of its Gonzales facility five years ago.
“We're making this request because we feel like it could be a true partnership,” Peña said. “It's not the first time that the county or that the state of Texas has worked with these in the past.”
Peña’s company, Texas Energy, specializes in “the development and tax planning of energy projects in Texas” by helping companies secure local, state & federal tax opportunities as well assisting with acquisition, site planning and preparation.
“We will negotiate the incentive with the onus being completely and totally on the company first,” Peña said. “Before anything can take place, the company will need to establish itself in Gonzales County, construct and complete the project and then become a viable taxpaying entity of Gonzales County.”
The county establishes the parameters of any agreement and can set up an annual review of compliance with the agreement, upon which any economic incentive would hinge, Peña said.
“The annual applicability of the incentive would be something that they would have to apply for every year,” he added. “The company has to show that it's complying by being a full taxpaying entity to the county and being up to date on its personal property taxes, and then submitting their annual incentive request to the county for consideration.
“That allows the county the ability to assess the project and ensure that it’s remaining compliant and ensure that they’re doing everything that they said they will do.”
Peña said the county has the ability to set the length of the construction and operations period of the agreement at whatever term the county feels is appropriate.
“You can also require that the company maintain a viable presence,” Peña said. “Let’s say, for example, it becomes an eight-year agreement and then you require that the company has to maintain five additional years in operations in order to qualify. There are recapture clauses included within the agreement should the company not comply.”
Peña said the state of Texas has a rollback tax that would require the company to pay “three years of rollback tax” on the industrial value of the site to the county, which will generate additional tax revenue, in addition to the increase in value of the property creating more tax revenue.
Commissioners did not take any action at the May 9 meeting, but may discuss the possibility of a Chapter 381 agreement with Apex and Starling Solar at a later date.