Local government

The future for students and residents in Milam County is now set to be a little brighter as a new solar farm comes to the area.

Milam County Judge Steve Young announced Monday that Samsung C&T, a unit of its Korea-based parent company, planned to invest $673 million for solar farms in the county. The investment will consist of three projects located close together that will cover about 7,000 acres.

Young said the solar farms will be located near Burlington and contribute tax money to three local school districts — Buckholts, Rosebud-Lott and Cameron.

“We tell these solar farm people that we embrace that technology,” Young said. “We want to be green in this county and so we want them here and we will give them a good tax abatement.”

While the county has given a tax abatement to the company for the solar farms, Young said over the 10-year abatement of the project they will receive about $10 million in taxes.

Young said the project — named Ben Milam Solar — is expected to start construction sometime in the summer of 2022. The project is expected to generate about 700 megawatts of electricity.

Rosebud-Lott ISD Superintendent Jim Rosebrock said he is excited for the project to go forward due to all of the additional funding the district could see.

The district, Rosebrock said, expects to receive about $120,000 a year combined from two of the solar projects. He said that is a lot of money, about $100 per student per solar farm, for a district its size with only 685 students.

The district’s school board approved the agreement with Samsung during its last meeting on April 19, with payments expected to start in the 2021-22 school year.

“We are looking at different ways to designate those funds to support our teachers, staff and also our students,” Rosebrock said. “When you look at the tax base, ours is so small that even if we were to increase taxes by a penny it would not benefit us as much as this is. For a small school district, it is a huge chunk of change.”

Buckholts benefit

Interim Buckholts ISD Superintendent Remy Godfrey — named the sole finalist for the superintendent job — said the solar farms are expected to be a great benefit for her school district.

A potential loss of that benefit is why Godfrey said she is worried about legislation on the state level that would get rid of the tax abatements used to draw the company to the area. A bill filed by Rep. Jeff Cason, R-Bedford, proposes to repeal the tax abatement chapter in the state code called Chapter 313.

The chapter is part of the Texas Economic Development Act of 2001, which allowed school districts to issue property tax abatements for companies bringing jobs to their area. Industries eligible for the incentives include research and development, nuclear energy and other forms of renewable energy generation.

Godfrey said the Buckholts school district currently spends most of its budget on its teachers and the money from the agreement would allow it to do more for students.

“Really, this is a beautiful deal for small school districts where we can actually get some funding and actually help get (students) to the level of closing the achievement gap,” Godfrey said. “It is kind of muddy water right now but we definitely want that bill to die.”

Other solar projects

Young said that the Samsung solar farm was not the only looking to build in the county, with three others currently seeking tax abatements.

He said the area is so attractive to these solar farms due to the existing power line infrastructure, low land costs and plenty of sunshine.

The other solar farms expected in Milam County include a $500 million solar project outside of Rockdale, a $150 million project near Milano and a $250 million farm near Gause. Young said all of these projects are planned after the Samsung project is completed.

Bell County has also seen two proposed solar farms including an approximately 2,300-acre farm by 8minute Solar, called the Chillingham Solar Farm, east of Temple and the 3,000-acre Big Elm farm east of Troy.

Both Bell County farms will benefit their nearby school districts, with the Chillingham project benefiting Academy ISD and Rogers ISD with about $19 million in revenue and Big Elm generating $23 million in taxes over its life for Troy ISD.

Young said that while he understands some being opposed to the farms since they don’t bring in many permanent jobs, he still feels they are better than nothing.

“We don’t have a gold mine here,” Young said. “If I had a solar farm opportunity and a gold mine, I would take the gold mine. But I don’t have a gold mine, I got solar, so I am gonna take it and we are going to make the best of it.”