2 citizens ask SSISD administrators to reconsider their position on the 313 agreement for the Dike solar farm

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Developer and landowner request school board to amend agreement as requested

Citizens this week called on Sulfur Springs ISD administrators to reconsider the district’s position on 313 agreements, specifically changing the agreement with Hopkins Energy LLC. The developer and a landowner whose property is within the planned area of ​​Hopkins Energy LLC have asked the board to approve the amended agreement.

Tim Fuller (pink shirt at left) addressed the school board during the public forum portion of the May 9, 2022 SSISD board meeting.

Ryan Economy, developer for solar project parent company Hopkins Energy ENGIE North America, noted that the amendment simply asks the district to push back the end date of construction and the start date of the limitation period by one year. value. He said the plan is to begin construction on the project later this year, with construction continuing into next year.

“Over the past year we have conducted extensive studies on our vision of wetlands and other factors that go into our design, particularly and very importantly the civil and water plans that are required by the State, so we can finalize our stormwater permit,” Economy said, advising the school board that its responsibilities relate to the school, the funding, the students, and the success of those students.

Economics argued that determining zoning and environmental issues is not the responsibility of the school. These belong to the Court of Commissioners and to the State.

“In the State of Texas, landowner rights prevail, and therefore landowners can do whatever they want on their private property, whether that be grazing livestock, catching sunlight, or growing crops. “said Economy. “So I’m here today to ask you to just extend the agreement that we already have in place. This funding is to net the school district approximately $1.3 million aside.

Economics said the deal benefits both the school district and the company. The company receives a reduction in maintenance and operating taxes from the school district under the terms of the agreement and additional payments and lost revenue payments of up to approximately $1.3 million to the district.

The request to extend the tax incentive deadlines for the planned Dike solar facility is the second change to the project, which has changed hands since the initial request a few years ago and has shrunk somewhat in size. No construction has yet begun on the project, located in the Sulfur Springs and Dike school districts.

Cynthia Martin, whose property backs onto the planned solar installation, has sued to stop the installation of the plant in Dike. So far, these claims have been dismissed by the local court, but efforts are continuing legally and through the local collective Save Dike From Solar, which represents “hundreds of citizens” from the Dike community who oppose at the “ENGIE industrial solar complex”.

Save Dike From Solar spokesman Michael Pickens said the planned project is in a forested wetland. State Senators Brian Hughes and Bob Hall, along with other elected officials, rejected the 313 agreements. New 313 agreements cannot be entered into after December 31, 2022.

“As Senator Bob Hall said, ‘I am dedicated to ending Chapter 313 tax abatements that raise property taxes on citizens in order to pay corporate property taxes through a crummy capital program,’ Pickens said, “There’s a whole bunch of news stories about this 313 program that faces so much opposition in the Texas Senate and in communities around the state of Texas.”

Michael Pickens, spokesperson for Save Dike From Solar; seats of the solar and legal representatives in front

Pickens argues that the 313 program and permission to build solar installations in rural areas will reduce the property values ​​of nearby Dike properties next to the power plant. He said another reason Hall and Hughes oppose is because school districts aren’t getting the extra funds promised by solar operations while making “tons of money” for solar companies.

On top of that, Pickens noted, ENGIE — the parent company of Hopkins Energy LLC — is a French company. Before that, Alpine Sun, the company that originally offered the deal and then sold it to ENGIE, is a German company.

“So our argument is that our land values ​​are depreciated, our land will be negatively impacted on the environment for a French company to make a lot of money,”

Dike resident Michelle Barnes said she was unaware of the planned solar project when she moved to Dike 2 years ago but is opposed to it.

“The only thing that worries me is the devastation of the environment. I’ve watched the Stampede Solar project in Saltillo before where they build big ditches for water retention,” Barnes said. “Well, if you’re going to build all these retention ponds everywhere – it’s 18 hundred and 50 acres in the Dike area – you’re going to change the environment that we live in, because that water no longer runs away to where it’s supposed to go the way it’s been for the past few years. It’s going to change everything for everyone there.

Barnes said his research for the solar project in Cunningham, Texas, just 21 miles from Dike, the developers have panels in place but have yet to begin operations. She said she was told it was due to a lack of funding. Property values ​​around the Cunningham project increased by 9.1% in the first year the farm was established.

“So not only will we not be able to sell our homes because we live right next to a solar plant, but we will pay more taxes because our assessed values ​​will increase because we now live in a jurisdiction that has commercial property and not rural farming,” Barnes concluded.

While Pickens and Barnes have expressed opposition to Dike’s planned solar installation, Tim Fuller is in favor of the project. He owns land located in the Hopkins Energy LLC project and knows the owners of the other parcels of land on which the solar projects are to be located.

“I don’t think people need to interfere with what I do with my land. This is my land. I should be able to put solar panels in there if I want. I think in our environment, that’s what we have to do. We need things other than fossil fuels, so I would like you to extend the contract,” Fuller said.

Garret Peters with KE Andrews, tax consultant for Hopkins Energy for ENGIE, said 313 programs were very successful.

“The fact that this business is going to save millions and millions and millions of dollars is not the truth. In this neighborhood alone, it’s a $90 million investment. On that, over 15 years, they save $935,000, so we’re not talking about massive corporate welfare that’s going to change the balance sheet and income statement of ENGIE, a global company, significantly,” Peters said.

All Texas property owners have seen an increase in the value of their home and land over the past year. A 9.1% increase would be at the lower end of increases. Peters said the property tax bill on his residential property in Rockwall had risen by 34%.

“I don’t believe it’s going to have a significant effect on the surrounding land. There have been studies that go both ways on the subject of proximity to solar power plants. If it’s not a major residential development, I don’t think it will contribute to value,” Peters said.

Since the Office of the Comptroller certified that the 313 agreements were eligible for the tax incentive, an amended application was submitted and approved by the Office of the Comptroller on April 28.

I fully understand your situation as owners of adjacent land, but the school board is not the place to discuss the legality of this issue. While the State of Texas and all zoning laws and boards make it legal for a landowner to do anything with their land, it is in no way up to the school board to dictate what a landowner does with their land. land as long as it abides by state law,” said SSISD Board Secretary Jason Dietze. “And if it wasn’t, it’s still not the school board’s job to do it. Our mandate is to explore opportunities that benefit students and the district. To be honest, to me it’s a no-brainer what a benefit it is to our district financially to approve these types of agreements.

Following the public hearing with citizen feedback at the May 9, 2022 SSISD Board of Directors meeting, the school board, as it should, declared no conflict of interest in the proposed agreement for Chapter 313 tax limitation for Hopkins Energy LLC. The Amended Agreement sets the start of the tax statute of limitations for the Chapter 313 Agreement as January 1, 2024 and its end as December 1, 2033. The final termination of the Agreement would be December 31, 2038, the last year of the term. prescription plus 5 years.

“Again, I really sympathize with you. If I lived next to one, I might have the feelings you have. However, the school district is not the place to really confirm or condemn these actions. We do not have the legal authority to do so. There is a loophole, in the sense that if we vote against it, it could have a negative impact on the project. However, this is not up to the school board – what is best for the students financially, what is best for the district financially is. We keep getting them and we keep having negative thoughts about it. This is not the school board’s place. These may have fairly legitimate arguments, but this should not be done in front of the school district. It needs to be done before your zoning committees, your state legislators,” Dietze concluded, just before the school board vote on the requested amendment.

The SSISD Board of Directors voted to grant the amendment adding the additional time for the start and completion of the project as well as exceeding the value limitation period by an additional year.

Value limits at 313 apply to the M&O portion of the school tax rate. Beneficiaries with limitations, in this case the solar company, will still have to pay taxes for the I&S (debt service) portion of the school tax rate, school administrators confirmed.

Dike resident Michelle Barnes (standing) addresses the SSISD school board during the regular school board meeting on May 9, 2022
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