Solar electric generating facility proposed

first-solar-logoLIVINGSTON – A move to build a solar electric generating plant in Polk County took a step forward Tuesday when the Polk County Commissioners Court approved the creation of a reinvestment zone for possible tax abatement.

The zone, located on 18,000 acres east of the Lake Livingston Dam off FM 1988, is in the process of being leased by First Solar, Inc. and plans are being developed to build a 50 to 100 megawatt generating facility using solar panels. It was noted that by building close to the dam, the First Solar plant could take advantage of the power distribution lines being installed to serve the hydroelectric plant now under construction at the dam.

Karl Pierce of First Solar’s Houston office told commissioners the size and generating capacity of the proposed Goodrich Solar project would be determined by what kind of contracts they could obtain from electrical distribution companies such as Entergy. He indicated the facility would be designed to meet the needs of the initial contracts and if the distribution companies needed additional power in the future, it would be expanded.

The overall value of the project would range from $45 to $120 million depending on its size.
He noted that in seeking tax abatement for the first 10 years of the facility’s life, they would be asking the county to waive certain requirements.

He noted that the county normally asks that at least 10 permanent, full-time jobs be created before they would agree to grant tax abatement. He explained this type of power generating facility is controlled remotely by off-site operators who oversee a number of such plants. The actual number of on-site employees would only be one or two.

“We will have at least one person there to maintain the facility,” Pierce said. “There isn’t a lot of maintenance needed because there are almost no moving parts.”

It was noted that this was the industry standard for such a facility and other taxing entities have agreed to the lower employee numbers in the past.

Pierce noted the location of the facility is on the border between the Livingston and Goodrich independent school districts. Because almost all of it will be on the Livingston side of the line, that district would receive almost all of the tax benefits from the Goodrich Solar facility.

First Solar will be seeking a form of tax abatement from the district, which is overseen by the state. Even with the abatement, the company representatives said Livingston ISD would expect to receive at least $410,000 in revenue from the plant for the first 14 to 15 years of its operation with the exception of year three. That year the payment to the school would be in the $1.2 to $1.3 million range.

The initial benefit to the county was not clear and will not be until its final structure is set. Under state law, the county commissioners have more flexibility in structuring abatement plans.

The most recent abatement approved was for the RoyOMartin oriented strand board plant now under construction in Corrigan. That 10-year abatement plan grants a 100 percent tax break the first year and that figure “stair steps” down by 10 percent per year until the company is paying the full rate.

First Solar indicated it would be asking for a 100 percent abatement for 10 years and noted that under that plan that county could expect to collect $2.4 million from year 11 through year 25 – which is generally considered to be the life of the initial solar power cells. Any expansion of the plant would fall under a separate abatement agreement that would be negotiated at that time.

Other business

During the meeting, commissioners also:

Helped recognized Livingston firefighter Jake Dominy for his service during the rescue of a trapped victim in a July 6 log truck accident. Dominy spent two hours assisting Zulma Santiago, a passenger in the log truck, after she was pinned inside the vehicle’s cab when it overturned on FM 943. Rachel Inlesias, regional director for U.S. Rep. Brian Babin of Woodville, presented Dominy with a certificate from Babin for his service during the accident.

Received the 2015 Off-System Bridge Inspection Report from Nancy Smith of the Texas Department of Transportation. Smith noted the county has about 100 bridges that were inspected and no major issues were detected. “You all are doing a good job,” she said.

Approved a variance to exempt a 40.44-acre tract from the county’s subdivision regulations. Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent noted that the developer was breaking the property into four lots, each over 10-acres in size and all with access to existing public roads. He noted there would be no common areas or additional streets constructed.

Closed the county’s Fiscal Year 2016 Reimbursement Resolution and authorized $128,087 in tax warrants to cover the spending authorized during the past year.