Commissioners court takes no action on tax abatement request

Steve Nash / Brownwood Bulletin
Dale Cummings (left) and Christian Fiente are pictured at Monday's meeting of the Brown County Commissioners Court.

Brown County Commissioners Court members took no action Monday after hearing a request for a tax abatement for a proposed 3,000-acre solar power project near Brookesmith.

Commissioners heard a presentation from Dale Cummings and Christian Fiene of Intersect Power, who asked commissioners court members to consider beginning the process of approving a tax abatement.

Intersect Power is proposing a 300-megawatt solar project on property within the Brookesmith school district. Brown County Judge Paul Lilly posted earlier on his Facebook page that he will vote against a tax abatement. Other commissioners court members said they are not ruling it out but want to look more into the issue. Commissioner Gary Worley suggested that the county hired a consultant to provide information to the court.

In January, the Brookesmith school board approved creating a radian reinvestment zone and approved a tax abatement.

Cummings and Fiente told commissioners court members more than 300 jobs would be created during construction project and two of the jobs would be permanent. The project would bring  $19.4 million in property taxes to the county and to the Brookesmith ISD, Cummings and Fiente told the court.

The two played a brief video for the court which stated the project would produce approximately 830 gigawatts of power per year which could power nearly 60,000 homes. The power generated would  tap into an existing substation south of the site and would not require long transmission lines to connect to the existing grid, the video stated. The project would be minimally visible to the public, surrounded by trees, fenced off and set back from roads, the video stated.

Cummings said the model the company is looking at is an 85 percent abatement over 10 years. Agricultural value generated by 3,000 acres is $1,700 a year, Cummings said.

“Over time with an 80 percent tax abatement over the 35-year life of the project, you’d  be looking at $6.7 million in taxes to the county,” Cummings said. But if there was no project you’d be looking at $60,000. That’s what we were trying to say — it’s a big financial benefit to the county.”

Cummings told the court there are “two ways to typically do a tax abatement. One is a percentage tax abatement, other way is payment in lieu of taxes,” or PILOT.

With a PILOT agreement, the project would be abated at 100 percent, typically for 10 years, in exchange for fixed payments, Cummings told the court.

A large number of counties like the PILOT because “you can budget every year, and it doesn’t affect your effective tax rate,” Cummings told the court.

Revenue can be used at the county’s discretion for for general county purposes such as building roads and bridges, commissioners were told, and Increased revenue to Brookesmith ISD will help the district overcome existing and future financial challenges.

Lilly asked Cummings and Fiene if the company required a tax abatement for the project to succeed. Fiene said the project likely would not happen without a tax abatement.

Intersect Power has three projects under construction with six additional projects including the proposed Brookesmith project “in the queue,” Cummings and Fiene told commissioners.