Education

TROY — The Troy Independent School District’s board of trustees discussed the proposed Big Elm Solar project on Monday — an endeavor that could generate the district millions in revenue.

The board delayed consideration of an appraised value limitation application for Big Elm Solar, a 3,000-acre project in north Bell County. The solar farm seeks to set an appraised value of $20 million for the project.

However, the board did unanimously approve an agreement for consulting services with Heath-based McDowell School Finance Consulting, LLC, which will examine the appraised value limitation application.

Superintendent Neil Jeter told the Telegram how Monday was the first time Troy ISD’s school board heard directly from Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy and High Clean Energy of Austin — the project’s developers.

Monty Humble, the managing director of High Road Clean Energy, previously told the Bell County Commissioners Court how the school district could receive about $23 million over the course of the 10-year PILOT agreement.

“It’s a little premature for me to speak on behalf of the district ... but it is certainly no secret that there is a considerable amount of revenue that would be potentially made available to the district,” Jeter said. “It remains to be seen how the board feels about hosting such an endeavor. (The project) created a challenging situation where the board will make a decision that will make someone happy and someone unhappy.”

Humble told Troy ISD trustees Monday that although the solar farm will encompass 3,000 acres, just 1,400 acres will have 18-foot tall solar panels installed.

The lifespan of the project once completed is about 30 years. There are no other plans for the farm’s remaining 1,600 acres outside of maintenance, Humble told trustees.

Under the contract with the county, Big Elm Solar must produce at least 180 megawatts of electricity annually; be operational by March 1, 2022, the owners must conduct an environmental study that exceeds state and federal requirements; use materials that minimize harm to the environment; and have a plan to return the land to its previous state once the project is decommissioned.

The proposed project is anticipated to generate more than $186 million in improvements for the region after securing a tax abatement from the Bell County Commissioners Court in July.

“I think a 10-year PILOT agreement that produces $2 million in additional revenue for the county taxpayers, with the provisions to address the issues and concerns that have been raised, is in my view a benefit for the county as a whole,” Bell County Judge David Blackburn said in July. “It is a major investment that will benefit the property and will contribute to the economic development of Bell County.”

Developers expect 300 jobs to be created during construction, and intend for two to three full-time positions to be filled when operational. The project is expected to produce up to 200 megawatts of electricity each year.

In June, commissioners unanimously agreed to designate a new reinvestment zone for the Big Elm Solar project — a decision after several nearby landowners voiced their disapproval over the project.

Four taxing entities fall within this reinvestment zone: Bell County, Troy ISD, Belton-based Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District and Temple-based Elm Creek Watershed Authority.

Staff writer Jacob Sanchez contributed to this report.