Three members of the board abstained from the vote, including board President Grant Gutierrez who has abstained from the whole process due to his day-job position with the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative. It is unclear why the others abstained.
The facility has a planned annual generation capacity of 200 megawatts (MW) and 80 MW of battery storage. One MW can power about 200 homes during peak usage times.
Overseen by California-based company RWE Renewables Americas, the project filing pegs the property’s taxable value at $190 million in the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year, then decreasing annually throughout the 10-year lifespan of the abatement down to $42 million.
Designed to attract business and jobs to a district, bringing tax dollars with them, the program requires applicants to commit to creating a minimum number of 25 jobs in non-rural districts and 10 jobs in rural districts. But that minimum was waived for Big Star Solar’s project, and the company instead committed to creating two jobs.
Big Star Solar is also seeking a tax abatement from Bastrop County under the Chapter 312 program.
The abatement is estimated to cost Smithville ISD over $10 million in accumulative property tax revenue losses. But proponents argue that without the abatement, the project would not be developed in the first place. On balance, a University of Texas study disputes that notion, finding that between 85 and 95 percent of the program’s beneficiaries would have set up shop in Texas anyway.
In addition to the reduced property taxes the company will pay under the abatement, they have promised to pay at least $3 million to Smithville ISD in supplemental payments.
Chapter 313 abatements were not renewed during the 2021 legislative session after disagreement within the chambers on the future of the program. The program is set to expire at the conclusion of 2022.
This week, Troy ISD in Bell County considered a similar proposal for another solar farm — oddly, similarly named Big Elm Solar — but voted it down after public opposition mounted.
Renewable energy companies receive a majority of Chapter 313 awards throughout the state but other categories of businesses, including thermal energy companies, are also eligible.
The project was originally expected to break ground on construction back in March and the abatement period begins in 2022.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.