Radian Solar Energy Project seeks Brown County tax abatement

Solar benefits all, harms none in Brown County

Special to the Bulletin

Brown County Commissioners will meet with legal counsel in closed session at 2 p.m. Monday to receive information regarding a potential tax abatement for Intersect Power, The company is developing the Radian Solar Energy Project. Intersect Power submitted this article stating its position.  

Tucked away in the far southwest corner of Brown County, Intersect Power is developing the Radian Solar Energy Project. Located on mostly unfarmed land owned by more than ten private property owners, the project will be an economic boon to the local economy, infusing Brown County and the Brookesmith Independent School District (ISD) with nearly $23M in property tax payments and creating numerous jobs in the community.

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The development of the project, and the corresponding tax revenues and local jobs, are dependent upon the County and Intersect Power coming together under what’s known as a “312 Tax Abatement Agreement.” Chapter 312 of the Texas Tax Code was enacted in 1987 as a way to empower local communities to invigorate local economies. The chapter enables counties to create property tax incentives to attract new or expanding businesses in order to compete with other counties in Texas, or other states, which may have similar incentives.

Detractors of the project, many of whom are from outside Brown County, are pushing a false narrative that the 312 Agreement means that Intersect Power will pay minimal-to-no property taxes. That simply is not true.

Under a ten-year agreement, the project will start paying taxes in year one and, by the final year of the agreement, will have paid nearly $6.5 million in taxes, with $1.4 million going to Brown County and $5.1 million to the Brookesmith ISD. Without development of the project, the expected property tax revenues on the relevant properties over that same ten-year period are less than $50,000. With the proposed tax agreement, the project will increase property tax revenues to the County and ISD during the ten-year period by 13,000%.

The total expected tax payments over the 35-year life of the project are estimated to be $7 million to Brown County (compared to $50,000 without the project) and $16 million to Brookesmith ISD (compared to $90,000 without the project). That’s a net property tax revenue improvement to the local community of nearly $23 million.

Opposition to the project is also pushing the narrative that the solar project is effectively a welcome sign to wind developers. This is incorrect. The project will actually make it more challenging for wind projects to be developed in the area in the future by utilizing a large portion of the available real estate around the existing transmission substation and by using up available transmission capacity required for future projects to interconnect to the grid.

The construction of the project will create more than 300 new jobs, including clearing, fence installation, electrical and mechanical engineering, and construction work. The project’s general contractor will work to maximize local jobs so that project contributes to the local community both through the substantial increase in tax revenues and through community employment. Long-term, the project will create two permanent jobs in Brown County and there will also be opportunities to hire local contractors for mowing, panel washing, and general site maintenance. Beyond job creation, our workers will frequent local restaurants, retail stores, and hotels, contributing significantly to the local economy. We are also committed to procuring materials and equipment locally and working with local vendors to construct and operate the project when possible.

In addition to ensuring the project provides economic benefits to the local community, Intersect Power has taken measures to make sure the project mitigates any potential environmental impacts and preserves the rich agricultural history of Brown County. The location of the project has low quality soils, so no high-value agricultural land will be impacted. Similarly, once constructed, native grasses will grow onsite, restoring the land under and around the solar panels to its natural state.

In concert with local landowners, environmental experts have extensively studied and surveyed all proposed properties, including completing a detailed review of the cultural, biological, and hydrological conditions.These studies have resulted in a detailed design, which avoids all bodies of water and streams. The electrical and chemical components of the panels are securely contained within the solar panels, meaning these elements cannot wash off onto the ground or into surface water or groundwater. The project site does not contain habitat for sensitive species and, before construction begins, the project biologist will complete a comprehensive survey to ensure that common species of birds or other animals are protected from harm.

Even if protecting the environment were not a priority and best practice for us at Intersect Power, strict federal permitting processes and stringent financing requirements ensure that the project will adhere to all environmental safety standards.

The project’s contributions to the local economy are undeniable: nearly $23 million in property tax revenues, two new permanent jobs, and over 300 construction jobs. The tax revenues will enable Brown County to build and maintain new roads and bridges and ensure that the community has access to resources it needs. Funds to Brookesmith ISD will ensure financial security for the school system, enabling the district to hire teachers, purchase supplies, or build additional facilities. While these economic benefits are clear, Texas is a remarkably competitive landscape for the development of new power projects and, without the approval of the tax agreement with Brown County, the Radian project will not be viable. It is our hope that all parties at the table - local landowners, county commissioners, Intersect Power, and the broader community - can work together to approve the pending 312 agreement and help build a bright future for Brown County.