Those opposed to the construction of solar farms missed another opportunity to let their voices be heard last week before Lamar County Commissioners’ Court. Understandably so, perhaps, although much discussion about the topic takes place of late at community gatherings.
Although there’s been discussion elsewhere, no one appeared at a Monday meeting when commissioners gave initial approval for the location of three more solar farms here. To my knowledge, no one from the public has yet to appear before any of the entities involved in the approval of incentives for solar farms to locate here.
Action came at the Monday meeting in the form of unanimous approval for three reinvestment zones in the southwest part of the county, a necessary step before companies can request any type of tax abatement from the county.
As required by law, public notice about the hearing appeared in the agenda posting for Monday’s meeting, and this newspaper published about the meeting with a headline that read: “County Commissioners to look at solar farms.”
Proposed farms include Rody Creek Solar, to be developed on roughly 4,500 acres in the far western part of the county off Highway 82 West, primarily north of the highway and partially in Precinct 2 and Precinct 3. MRG Good Solar is planned on 1,100 acres, all south of Highway 82 in Precinct 2 while a smaller farm, Roscsol, is planned on about 500 acres between Brookston and Highway 82, also in Precinct 2.
The farms bring the number of planned and existing farms to roughly a dozen since the first small farm located here in 2018 on FM 196 south of Blossom near an Oncor Electric substation. Subsequently, the closure of the coal-fired Monticello Power Plant near Mount Pleasant in January 2018 opened the door for other companies to invest in Lamar County because of available capacity on a transmission line from Titus County through Red River, Lamar and Fannin counties on the way to the Dallas Metroplex. Companies offered lucrative lease agreements to property owners, who understandably took advantage of the opportunity to earn far more income from their property than farming and ranching could provide.
Add to the scenario, huge property tax breaks offered companies through Chapter 313 of the Texas Property Code, in existence since 2002. Not only did the state incentive benefit companies, but it also provided a means for school districts to receive financial windfalls. In the case of Prairiland ISD, the district passed back-to-back bond elections in 2021 and 2022 totaling $23.5 million and is now making major campus improvements without a tax increase. As a side note, although Chapter 313 expired last year, companies still are expressing interest in solar farms, even without the benefit offered by school districts. However, there is a push in Austin to reinstate what many call a huge corporate giveaway.
Monday’s action was the first step of several to take place before the proposed solar farms receive the county’s blessings in the form of tax abatements. Although there may be no legal means to block more solar farms from coming here, pressure in the form of a public outcry could bring attention to concerns.
Public concern can result in action.
Norway-based Orsted, owners of the massive 3,900-acre Mockingbird Solar Farm, located west of Paris off Highway 82 and encompassing almost 1,000 acres of the historical Smiley-Woodfin Native Prairie Grassland, confirmed it’s recent donation of the prairie to The Nature Conservancy and pledged to work with TNC on other ways to mitigate damage on other areas of the solar center. Although both Orsted and TNC officials confirmed that work on the project began early on, the situation with Smiley’s Meadow gained national attention months before the Orstead announcement of its donation.
Perhaps more concern about the long-range effects of solar farms expressed publicly through letters to the editor and at upcoming hearings could produce favorable results.
Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at email@example.com.
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