Brookesmith superintendent responds to comments about proposed solar farms

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
A portion of the Brookesmith school district is pictured in an earlier file photo

Brookesmith ISD superintendent Steve Mickelson said the district would benefit from two solar farm projects that are proposed near Brookesmith, but added the district is "hanging in there" financially.

“Brookesmith ISD is not going anywhere,” Mickelson said. He spoke in a phone interview in response to statements that opponents of the projects made during Monday's meeting of the Brown County Commissioners Court.

“But we certainly would like to have a greater fund balance and to be stronger financially," Mickelson said. "As far as the state of the Brookesmith ISD, we are fine. Even if it’s a tight time or a difficult time, we’re moving through it.” 

Mickelson, who spoke at an earlier commissioners court meeting in support of the projects, said the Brookesmth district has an enrollment of 152 and ‘we’re certainly hanging in there” financially.

Six members of TLOW (Texas Landowners Against Wind), which was initially formed in opposition to wind energy, spoke during the citizens comment section of the agenda Monday. Some of the speakers included comments about the Brookesmith school district, saying they empathize with the small district also saying it's not the county's responsibility to support and subsidize the district.

TLOW has been urging commissioners court members to refuse to grant tax abatements for two proposed solar farm projects. TLOW has made several arguments against abatements for the projects, including the argument that taxpayers should not subsidize projects that can't stand on their own and be profitable.

California-based Intersect Power is developing the Radian Solar Energy Project and wants to build a solar farm on 2,000 to 3,000 acres of land located within the Brookesmith school district. TLOW speakers noted that a second company, Mustang Mountaineer, is proposing to build a solar farm on about 3,000 acres near Brookesmith.

Mickelson said the school district has received a $50,000 payment from Intersect.

“I think in the year 2024, we would get about $2.5 million, which of course would benefit us to no end,” Mickelson said. “We would be able to buy much needed buses, and just a whole slew of things for the kids, plus then our fund balance would be sitting finally where it needs to be.

“Also, in addition to that, with the two (solar farm) projects together, we would also be getting an extra $100,000 a year, and that’s a huge thing for this district.”

Intersect said earlier its project would bring $23 million in property tax payments over the 35-year life of the project to Brown County and the Brookesmith school district — $7 million to Brown County and $16 million to the Brookesmith school district.

Under a 10-year agreement, the project would begin paying taxes in the first year; by the final year of the agreement, Intersect would pay nearly $6.5 million in taxes, with $1.4 million going to Brown County and $5.1 million to the Brookesmith school district, Intersect has said.

Mickelson was not present at Monday's meeting but said he is familiar with the comments from TLOW members. 

“Honestly, I still don’t understand why — what is the real reason these folks are opposing?" Mickelson said. "A lot of the information I’m hearing is just not accurate information.

“It’s not costing the taxpayer anything. As far as this project, everybody says ‘I’m not going to flip the bill for that.' They’re not flipping the bill. The one’s flipping the bill are the solar company.”

TLOW members said renewable energy had failed during last week’s winter storm. 

“The argument that it’s somehow tied to the green new deal … when this whole freeze happened, when it was so cold for everybody, we lost power, we lost all kinds of stuff,” Mickelson said.

“Those of us out in Brookesmith were hit hard by it like everyone else. But if you look at it, everything was down — the coal plants, there was even a nuclear power plant, I believe, down in south Texas. A good percentage of the gas wells were frozen. It was not a solar issue only. Everything was down. So I don’t know how this can be blamed or attributed to (solar power). I’m not an expert on the grid, but it certainly looks to me like they’re making something out of this that is not the case.”

TLOW has said granting abatements for solar farms would open the door for wind farms with huge landscape-marring turbines.

“It’s not wind,” Mickelson said. If the commissioners court approves abatements and the solar projects are built, “they can’t just opt to put a wind project in,” Mickelson said.

TLOW has said granting abatements for the solar farms is a generational decision that would "forever change Brown County, our quality of life and increase the likelihood for an additional influx of wind and solar projects."