Citizens claim solar project would benefit commissioner

Brownwood Bulletin
Brown County Courthouse

The debate over potential tax abatements for solar farm projects ratcheted up Monday as several Brown County landowners said Precinct 3 commissioner Wayne Shaw will benefit if a solar project goes in his precinct.

Shaw had no immediate comment after landowners claimed Shaw has a conflict of interest. Some of the landowners — speaking during the citizens comment portion of the agenda — said Shaw should not remain in office, or at the very least be recused from voting on the topic.

Later Monday, Shaw said he is “not conflicted at all” and declined further comment.

The ongoing debate is preceding a vote that is likely coming to the commissioners court on tax abatements for solar companies.

While most of the citizens’ comments were focused on Shaw, two individuals spoke in favor of tax abatements.

Rancher John Conaway told commissioners court members at an earlier meeting that he supports solar abatements. Conaway said Monday the county will no longer receive tax revenue from the former Brownwood Regional Medical Center after the hospital — previously owned by a corporation — was bought by Hendrick Health, a nonprofit.

The loss of about $22.5 million in taxable value “will have to be made up in some way,” Conaway said. “Without this additional (solar) revenue, our taxes will go up to make up that difference.”

Another speaker, Kenneth Adams said, “we as a pro-solar group are fighting false information and want to offer some rebuttals.”

Adams referenced a solar project in Menard County, where “the (solar) panels have failed to kill the grass and kill the soil, as our opposition has said.”

Adams also said said “opposition opinion states solar farms ‘will change our way of life,’ and I agree with that. You give $16 million to the Brookesmith school system and it will create a better learning environment, better classroom facilities and tools for learning. It will affect students for generations to come. It will create guarantees of teachers’ salaries and job placements in the school district.” 

Speaking on the topic of Shaw, business owner Katie Lord read commissioners a letter a company called Ironwood Ironwood Renewables sent to a Precinct 3 landowner on Oct. 22.

“It was great speaking with you regarding your property in Brown County,” Lord read from the letter. “As discussed, we are looking to add some additional acreage to our project with Wayne and BJ Shaw.”

The company went on to say in the letter that it desired to lease “as many acres as possible” from the landowner.

Lord said the contract between an elected official and voters had been “violated by a member of this court.”

Landowner Steven Wilson said it has “come to our attention that there may be a commissioner that has signed a solar agreement, is planning on signing a solar agreement or will probably end up signing a solar agreemen.”

The commissioners could have a conflict of interest by participating and/or vote in “any matter involving these projects before the commissioners court for consideration,” Wilson said.

Wilson also signed an open records request for communication pertaining to tax abatements between “officers and employees of the county” and several renewable energy companies including Ironwood Renewables.

Precinct 3 resident J.Y. Timmmins read from a letter he addressed to Shaw.

Timimins referenced an earlier conversation he’d had with Shaw about the Brookesmith school district.

“You said you had grown up with many of the Brookesmith people and you could not be the one to say ‘no’ to them and their kids for the ‘life-changing’ amount of money being offered from the solar project,” Timmins read from the letter.

“You also said that you could not be the one to say no to a person with 130 acres who had a chance to make a lot of money for the next 20 yeas. You said that you were going to vote yes on the proposed tax abatements.”

Timmins said in his letter that Shaw had admitted to having a conflict of interest and was unwilling to represent voters’ wishes.

In fairness to the voters of Precinct 3, Shaw should “immediately resign. … At the very least, you should recuse yourself from voting on or even discussing the proposed abatement,” Timmins read from the letter.

Landowner Jeff Tucker said the Oct. 22 letter from Ironwood Renewables to the Precinct 3 landowner shows “one particular commissioner in this court has been privately dealing with a at least one renewable company we are aware of … Such actions are a clear conflict of interest, unethical, and violate the public trust.”

Tucker said those actions place “a dark cloud over this court and any recent actions taken concerning the current tax abatement question. “

Addressing Brown County Judge Paul Lilly, Tucker said he is asking for “a full transparent investigation into the matter. I request a tabling of any business in regard to any renewable projects seeking subsidies or incentives until we purge the motives of our commissioners.“

Tucker said he wants Shaw recused from “any votes concerning the tax abatement before the court “ and went on to request “removal procedures of commissioners Shaw’s current seat.”