Webb commissioners approve development of solar power farm

The Webb County Court of Commissioners voted unanimously this week to enter into a lease agreement that will hopefully put a solar power project off of US Highway 59 for the next two years, every revenue generated by the project going to local school districts.

Commissioners met behind closed doors twice on Monday to discuss the potential lease and appeared to question whether or not to implement the deal Grandsolar had on the table.

“Our judicial duty is… we are the ones who take care of the school grounds,” said Webb County Judge Tano E. Tijerina. “So for the three ISDs, we’re doing everything we can – they’re trying to bring in a solar farm and we’re trying to get out of it as much as we can. Right now we’re getting about $ 36,000, if I’m not mistaken, per year… and that will actually take them a little over $ 600,000 per year.

“So this is a substantial increase, but obviously, as the commissioner’s tribunal, we are doing everything we can. Now we are a bit at a standstill.

In the lease in question, Webb County Commissioners voted to enter into a 22-year lease with an initial two-year lease for a development phase.

During the first two years of the project, Grandsolar will put in place the pieces of a 300 MW solar power project. During this two-year period, the county will commit $ 25,000 per year to lease the land. However, if the company decides to go ahead with the project – which is not yet guaranteed – after the development phase, it will enter a period of construction and operation. During this period, the lease rent will be $ 350 per acre on 1,900 acres of land amounting to $ 665,000.

The land is also on Webb County School land which is held in trust by the County for schoolchildren. Anything that comes from this land is turned over to school districts for things like construction. Schools in Webb County, LISD and UISD would share this revenue.

While this is not yet a done deal, it is a deal the county knew it could move forward with if they wished.

“I guess we have a bird in our hand,” said Commissioner John C. Galo. “It’s money for the school districts if he spends, you know, again, the first two years, the early years are basically nothing.”

Grandsolar does not have to go ahead after the initial two-year lease. There is no guarantee that the school districts will receive the $ 665,000 as a result of this.

That’s part of the reason the county didn’t approve the deal immediately.

“If we keep pushing, maybe we have it, there will be a situation where everyone walks away,” Tijerina said.

“As much as it is painful, I like to negotiate, I will tell you that if I was in a private matter I would tell you that I would put my boots on the ground, my heels on the ground and I would not move. But it’s something that I think we’ve done all we can and it’s a substantial gain for ISD so I hope they recognize that as well.

Currently on the lands in question, which include Cuchillas and Lomas Pastures, revenues are derived from existing oil and gas and hunting leases and amount to approximately $ 36,000 to $ 37,000 per year.

If Grandsolar finalizes its project, the amount of income from the property – which would be valued at $ 300 million – would be multiplied by 10. Additionally, United ISD – where the property is officially located – would be able to tax it as it does. Webb County.

The rent would also increase to 2% per year after the two-year development phase, which would increase money production.

Grandsolar can also, if it wishes, extend the lease beyond 22 years to include four additional leases of six months during the development phase and two to five years during the construction and operation phase, which brings the total possible duration of the lease to 34 years.

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