Marfa Texas is more known for eccentric-quirky artists and the Marfa Lights, an unexplained phenomena that happens on some nights, I have seen these lights and found them to be interesting and hard to explain, I thought I was seeing car lights, until I watched one go across the desert floor then shoot straight up into the air…. Now the company SunPower wants to build a power plant in Marfa, and the residents of Marfa have questions for SunPower.
MARFA – SunPower will host an open house Thursday, January 30, from 5pm to 7pm at the Marfa School Cafeteria. SunPower, based in San Francisco, California, is one of four companies interested in potentially setting up solar power plants in Presidio County.
The open house will allow residents to learn about the proposed 50-megawatt project called Texas Solar Star that would produce enough energy for around 40,000 homes. It was previously reported that SunPower is looking to locate their project in the Antelope Hills area east of Marfa.
Presidio County Commissioners set up a public hearing at their last meeting for SunPower’s application to designate a Reinvestment Zone on Tuesday, February 11 at 9am in the Presidio County Courthouse in Marfa.
Marfa school board approves applications for two solar plants
By SARAH M. VASQUEZ
MARFA – Marfa Independent School District Board of Trustees unanimously voted to approve the applications for two potential solar power plants.
SunPower and Alpine 1 Solar both made presentations during the Monday, November 18 school board meeting about potential solar power plants near Marfa.
Trustee Mahala Guevara stressed that before the board made any final decisions, Monday’s votes only means the applications submitted by SunPower and Alpine 1 Solar would go to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, where her agency will review the application and either accept or reject the proposals.
Guevara said these projects are a big thing to consider. “There’s a lot of variables. There’s financial variables. There’s community variables. There’s a lot of moving parts. In order to evaluate that, it’s going to take a lot of time, not only from our consultants and lawyers, but from the school district and the school board and the community as a whole.”
She wanted to make it clear that if the board moved to accept the application and go through the process of evaluation, it doesn’t mean they approve the project. This vote would be one of many steps for this project.
Alpine 1 Solar has proposed a 60-megawatt project, valued at about $60 million, close to the Presidio and Brewster counties line south of US 67/90 near Paisano Pass. There will be two phases producing 30 megawatts each. The Presidio County Commissioners Court approved a tax abatement for this project last month that would help Alpine 1 Solar offer competitive prices to the market as well as the creation of a reinvestment zone.
Project Developer John Lichtenberger from Alpine 1 Solar attended the school board meeting to pursue a Texas Tax Code Chapter 313, also known as Texas Economic Development Act, from the school district.
This type of tax agreement would allow a company and a school district an “eight-year limitation on the taxable property value” for school district’s Maintenance and Operations (M&O) tax rate and a tax credit in exchange for the company to build or install property and create jobs. In Lichtenberger’s words, it would create a “very sizable tax base” and provide another source of revenue for the school district.
Trustee Katherine Shaughnessy Michael asked if the project would go forward if they didn’t receive the tax credit. Lichtenberger couldn’t say yes or no, but he did say if the tax abatements weren’t approved, the project and location would be “absolutely competitively disadvantaged” from an economic standpoint. He said what dictates the price of the energy are the taxes.
“So when we bid it in to Austin Energy, for example, or try to sell it to another entity or utility, they’ll say ‘What’s your price?’ I’ll say ‘It’s here, because we weren’t able to get tax agreement from the school district. Everyone is coming in lower. Everything else being equal, those other projects are more competitive. They get selected. That project never gets built,” said Lichtenberger.
After the motion was made by Shaughnessy Michael and seconded by Trustee Tina M. Lujan to consider Alpine 1 Solar’s application and authorize Superintendent Andrew Peters to engage with consultants to review the application, the motion was passed unanimously.
Kevin Wetzel and Rob Rogan, both representing SunPower of San Francisco, California but with a growing Austin office, presented their potential project in the Antelope Hills area east of Marfa. This company is proposing a 50-megawatt project called Solar Star Texas that would produce enough energy for around 40,000 homes.
School board members approved the Solar Star Texas application as well. Each firm is paying Marfa ISD $75,000 to cover the district’s costs in the matter.
Construction for this project would take nine to ten months and produce 75 construction jobs and one full-time employee for the 25 to 30 year lifespan of the project.
In addition to the school district tax agreement, SunPower is also seeking from the county a tax abatement and reinvestment zone, as did Alpine 1 Solar.
However, one of the concerns about this particular project is its location to homes in Antelope Hills.
Antelope Hills residents objected vigorously to a proposal by Tessera Solar to site a solar power plant near their homes. That project never came to fruition. Tessera’s solar-gathering equipment, large parabolic mirrors that were about 40 feet tall, differ from the current proposed projects, photovoltaic panel that are anchored close to the ground. The new project is on Gage ranch country east of Antelope Hills; the Tessera project was south of Antelope Hill on Orton ranch property.
Marfa resident Malinda Beeman, who lives in Antelope Hills, attended the school board meeting and had some questions and concerns. School board president Robert Halpern allowed her to address Wetzel and Rogan during the meeting.
“I want to say that everyone that I’ve talked to in our neighborhood supports solar energy, so that’s not really an issue, but we did pick that area to have a specific lifestyle, and also the whole area to have a specific lifestyle,” said Beeman.
Rogan said the project is still in the preliminary planning stages, but would hold community open houses through the process in addition to the open forums that must be held before a public entity makes a decision.
Beeman said it would be useful if they could start an early dialogue with the community because she thinks that would make it an effective process.
“That was not the case with the last situation with Tessera Solar, and it made for a very rocky road for them and for us and ended up with a failed project. So I’m hoping we can have a good dialogue if this is gonna happen,” said Beeman.
The motion to consider SunPower’s application and authorize Peters to engage with consultants to review the application was passed unanimously after Guevara made the motion followed with a second by board trustee Cosme A. Roman.
According to Lichtenberger, one reason why solar power companies are interested in Presidio County is because the area provides a “superb” solar resource. Looking at two maps from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, there are what Linchtenberger calls “sweet spots,” that show the amount of sun that shines in this neck of the woods would produces more units of energy than other parts of the state, let alone the country.
As previously reported, solar companies such as Alpine 1 Solar and SunPower are in a rush to submit their applications, because new regulations for the Chapter 313 tax code will take into effect on January 1, 2014 as well as the December 3 deadline to submit a proposal to Austin Energy for an up to 50 megawatts of solar energy.
To listen to a radio segment about this, go here
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