“Over-burdened” taxpayers have continued to utilize the public comments portion of Wharton County Commissioners Court meetings to express support for solar farms as a means to increase the county’s tax base.
Currently three alternative energy companies are looking to develop solar farms within the county — Hecate Energy, LLC and SunChase Power, LLC, both in Louise, and AP Solar Holdings, LLC on Pierce Ranch. The court has taken applications for Chapter 312 tax abatements from both Hecate and AP Solar with no agreements made.
Hecate submitted its application to the court in April requesting a 70 percent abatement for 10 years on a $500 million project. The application failed for lack of a motion in May.
A few taxpayers who spoke before the court May 28 mentioned that commissioners have set a precedent for solar farms in Wharton County by approving an eight year-abatement at 50 percent for the Cascade Solar, LLC project — a smaller, $10-million-project on 75 acres outside of Lane City.
Dick Ramsey, whose land is included in Hecate’s proposed 4,300-acre project, made this point at a May meeting saying if the court did it once with one renewable energy company it could possibly negotiate these same terms with Hecate.
According to Ramsey’s figures, at a 50 percent abatement, for the first 10 years, the county and the hospital district would each receive $4.5 million, junior college $3 million, Louise ISD $8 million and the Emergency Service Districts No. 1 and No. 2 $2.4 million. For the life of the project, his figures show the county receiving $10.3 million, hospital district $7.2 million, junior college $4.6 million, LISD $22.8 million and ESDs No. 1 and No. 2 $ 7 million.
Ramsey warned Hecate could relocate to a neighboring county.
“Let’s get these people on board and raise our tax base. Let’s take the pressure off of the homeowners,” he said.
Steve Cooper, who is on the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) board of directors, followed Ramsey with a few warnings that included possible brownouts this summer due to increased need for power statewide to county residents moving to escape high taxes.
“I would like to see Wharton County remain an affordable county to live in. Our taxes are out of control. We are running people off,” Cooper said.
“We have thousands of people coming into the state, but we only have a 1 percent growth rate in Wharton. I don’t know how else to make it sustainable for those who want to live here than have people share the load with us,” he said.
Oil and gas comes and goes, but wind and solar are growing, Cooper said.
“I am a farmer and a rancher. I don’t like losing farmland, but the long and short of it is we’ve got all our eggs in one basket. We got to have some help. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Mindi Snyder, former city manager for El Campo, and Gwen Willis, who chaired the El Campo city development board, spoke about the economic development advantages of solar farms.
“We need to reopen the conversation on the solar issue. I’d like to see more of a public exchange and factual information to be evaluated so we can listen to each other’s concerns and at the end of the day we make a good decision for our community,” Willis said.
Julie Crider and Alan Hescamp, both solar energy proponents, pushed for progress on the alternative energy front.
“I have seen my property taxes go up at a very steep rate. We need a broader tax base, and I would like to see us move forward on a cleaner energy project,” Crider said.
“It’s a sign of progress and if you are not in favor of progress, if you’re not moving forward than you are moving backwards. I have never seen Wharton County as a county that chose to potentially move backwards,” Hescamp said.
Ed Erwin, former El Campo city councilman and now an El Campo ISD trustee, who owns an agribusiness, summed the situation up by saying, “I think it is a disservice to the taxpayers to not meet with these people to negotiate. To do nothing is the wrong action.”
Public comments for solar farms in the county have continued to be made into the June meetings.