Brown County citizens speak against solar farm tax abatement

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Brown County Courthouse

Six members of TLOW — Texas Landowners Opposing Wind —urged Brown County Commissioners Court members Monday to refuse a tax abatement for a proposed solar farm project near Brookesmith.

While there were no agenda items at Monday’s meeting that pertained to the proposed solar project, the six spoke during the citizens' comments section of the agenda.

TLOW was initially formed by a group of landowners who opposed tax abatements for wind energy.

On Feb. 8, commissioners approved in a 4-1 vote — with Brown County Judge Paul Lilly voting “no” —  guidelines and criteria for any future tax abatements the court might grant.

California-based Intersect Power is developing the Radian Solar Energy Project and proposes to build a  300-megawatt solar project on 2,000-3,000 acres of rural land in the Brookesmith school district.

No one at Monday’s meeting spoke in favor a tax abatement for the project. Most of the six citizens who spoke said last week’s power outages showed that renewable energy is not dependable.

Lilly was not present at Monday’s meeting.

The six who spoke were:

Brad Locker

“I think we’ve come under a really good curtain here, with the weather we’ve had in the last week, to demonstrate the worthlessness of solar and wind energy,” Locker, a  rancher and businessman, told commissioners.

“I have no idea why Brown County would get involved in that deal with subsidizing something that doesn’t work in the county, doesn’t produce jobs for locals. If these things are so good, they should stand on their own I think without an abatement.”

Commissioner Joel Kelton responded that an abatement is not a subsidy.

Terri Kemp

“I think we got a big dose and got a face full of what alternative power sources will do for energy,” said Kemp, who with her husband lives in the Brookesmith school district.

“I think we all know that we were opposed to the wind turbines, and now with the solar farms, that’s just a gateway to wind turbines. It really makes me sick to think I will be sitting my back yard looking at those turbines blinking. If you’re one of the few that’s getting a check, then I guess that gives you more of a reason to prostitute our land and our resources.”

Kemp said her husband spoke with a landowner who was “getting petitions for it because they want to use his land.”

She said the landowner told her husband ‘they’re paying me enough that I can go anywhere I want to live, and I can do anything I want to do and I don’t have to look at it.”

Kemp said that statement “just kind of sums it up. You (commissioners) are our voices. We don’t have a voice, really, other than when we email and call.”

Kemp said Lilly is the only commissioners court member who has responded to her via email.

Kelton said the letters and emails to the commissioners court on the topic are being kept and compiled.

Commissioners made no additional comments.

Steven Wilson

Landowner Steven Wilson said granting a tax abatement for the project would be “wasteful spending for the county. I’d like to point out that the folks from Radian have been here on the payroll. That’s their job, to come up and and lobby you all. And I feel like that’s them using our taxpayer money against us. 

“They’re here asking for more tax-free money. They’ve gotten federal subsidies, state subsidies and they’ve got a 313 (abatement) agreement with the Brookesmith ISD.”

Noting that Kelton had said abatements are not subsidies, the two are very similar, Wilson said.

“They have been granted a 313 tax abatement with the Brookesmith ISD to help them to move forward with their little piece of the new green deal,” Wilson said. “Many of us took off work (Monday) morning to be down here to stand up against our own tax dollars being used against us.

“We just witnessed a real life negative impact study of renewable (energy) on the grid. Solar and wind did not produce. This is nothing new. The last two summers we witnessed rolling blackout because renewable again did not produce when we needed it the most.”

Wilson said the commissioners court “has the opportunity to say ‘Brown County will not contribute to this insanity.’ You have the majority of your constituents’ support for a ‘no’ vote.”

Scott Killingsworth

Scott Killingsworth, who owns property in southern Brown County, told commissioners, “this is not a one-year decision. This is not a two-year or five-year decision. This is a generational decision. Once we start down this path of renewables, it is going to be easier for them to get more of them in this county.”

Killingsworth said last week showed “the impact of replacing stable energy sources with variable energy sources in terms of wreaking havoc on the electrical grid. We can’t be part of that.

“We can’t support the AOC green new deal and Californians coming in here to throw money at us to do the things that aren’t right.”

Killingsworth said while “everyone supports and wishes well the Brookesmith Independent School District … they have their own management and they have their own funding mechanism. It’s their tax rate and they have to manage within that. And everybody knows in Texas, the funding mechanism is the population of students.

“And if you’re not growing your student base you’re in trouble. … It’s not the county’s responsibility to support and subsidize that and bail them out.”

Killingsworth said Brookesmith has approved two applications for solar abatements for Radian Solar and Mustang Mountaineer.

“They’ll talk about the 3,000 acres for Radian, the 3,000 acres for Mustang Mountaineer,” Killingsworth said. “The reality is, you look at the reinvestment zone they’ve created, it’s 15,000 acres. It will be easier for them to expand once they’ve got their foothold and they’ve started these projects.”

Don Holland

“I empathize with the people of the Brookesmith school district,” landowner Don Holland said. “There’s no question that they’re facing major issues. But I also empathize with the people from the Blanket school district. And I empathize with people from the Brownwood school district and so forth and so on down the line.

“As Mr. Killingsworth pointed out, it’s not my responsibility to bail Brookesmith out. It’s just not. And that’s hard to say. I feel sorry for them.”

Holland said he “prays the county doesn’t fall prey to this left wing new green deal here in Brown County. It’s running over our country. We do not support tax abatements. If these guys can come in here, put in a business, make it work, provide jobs, help the Brookesmith school district, so be it. But don’t ask me out in Precinct 3 to tote the note. It’s just not fair to the whole county.”

Eric Dick

Dick, who lives with his family in Precinct 2, said the family also owns a farm in Precinct 4.

“I couldn’t be more against solar or wind and abatements as is my whole family,” Dick said.

“ … Bottom line is, as we put more renewable energy on line, we’re not going to hedge our bets with more conventional energy.

“Those things are going to be decommissioned and so we’re going to be more and more and more reliant on renewable energy and we have issues like we did this past week — and granted, that was a once-in-a-long-time deal, but we still have cold spells — the estimates (for solar power) are somewhere between 10 and 25 percent efficient when you’re overcast, like we are on most cold days.

“Unless you winterize your turbines, they basically will fail. And the cost to winterize those things, we’re not going to do here when we have events as infrequently as that. When they can’t stand on their own two feet without abatements, they’re not going to be able to spend the extra money to winterize those turbines.”