SISD Candidate Forum: Thursday, April 8 — Rosanky Community Center 6-8 p.m.
October 19, 2020
Guests: Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape, Pct. 2 County Commissioner Clara Beckett, members from RWE online
Objective: The first chance for very concerned residents to ask questions to RWE representatives and county leaders.
The takeaway: More questions than answers as RWE did not have a clear development strategy and relied heavily on bullet-point data and paid assumptions from their professionals.
October 26, 2020
Several Rosanky area residents were in attendance and spoke at the Bastrop County Commissioners Court this morning regarding the Big Star Solar farm. Here's a recap from their comments:
• New couple in town (missed their names): US Army couple, purchased land in 2018, only heard about the solar farm because they were at their property last Tuesday (a day after our town hall) and a neighbor happened to stop in and inform them. Their land butts up to the solar farm property, they did not have any notification of the project, no input from the company (RWE). Said the lack of short notice didn't convey trust in the company (RWE).
• Louis Hooper: Bastrop County has a reputation for high property taxes. He has always been against tax abatements, understands why they are there, but still it's not the right thing to do. RWE needs to pick up their own tax bill and not put the tax burden on local small biz and homeowners. "It's a bad thing for this county."
• Justin Fillman: Voiced disapproval for the reinvestment zone. His grandparents live next door to the project, and the solar farm will kill the beautiful view they have. Him and his wife just learned this as they were planning to build their home. He had read "horror stories" of the solar panels turning into "blinding reflectors" acting as giant mirrors. Said that solar companies use the Chapter 313 incentives to "line their pockets", and the projects can depreciate greatly over time and lose their value, thus less tax money going to ISDs as originally promised.
• Raylynne Fillman: 4th generation landowner, grew up on land that will be next to solar farm. Solar companies use Chapter 312 & 313 incentives to line their pockets, over time their tax liability plummets, leaving ISDs in a lurch. Big Star seeks to get a waiver on the 10-employee minimum to get the tax break (they want it waived to 2), which she said is typical of the solar industry, using "boiler plate language" put in the bills authorizing the Chapter 313 incentive plans. The federal tax credit on solar farms is ending soon, that's why RWE is pushing this through. If the court were to deny the tax break, it would make SISD's job easier, set precedence, the court is the first line of defense. "Not good for Rosanky, and not good for our schools."
• Mr. King: Has lived on property 30 years that borders solar farm, asks court to deny tax abatement. Chapter 312 & 313 incentives decreases the company's tax liability and creates tax decreases for the community and local schools with no additional value to the community when completed. The court has a lack of sufficient information on the proposed project to approve the abatement.
• Betty King: 30 year resident, comments that RWE will be using the abatement for their benefit, not the taxpayers. The 3 jobs they promise is not enough to justify the tax break. They will be stealing from their children and their future, and she prays that it doesn't happen.
• Jim Rose: The project is now at around 2,100 acres with the addition of the Swinson property. RWE has provided inaccurate info in regards to environmental studies, said that TP&WD recommended they speak to US Fish & Game but the agencies have not set foot on the property. Said that the court is being pressured into the tax break through a threat of a lawsuit, can't believe anything RWE has to say.
• John Riley: Has been a pro engineer for 40 years, retired. Managed big projects like this. In his opinion, Austin has promised big developers (Tesla, Google, Apple) "clean energy" if they move to town, and projects like this are it. RWE could have built in any ERCOT grid in Texas, especially in West Texas where many solar farms are currently located, but chose to come here because Austin can tout their "green" power next door in Bastrop County. RWE is the developer but not the manager of the electricity generated, this is Austin Energy wanting it built here because of lax development standards not seen in Travis County, no zoning code here for them to fight. The SISD is the one in the driver seat, and the court can set the tone here. He doesn't want Rosanky to be the dumping grounds for Austin projects. Jeddo Road needs to be in any contract they sign so that it gets rebuilt.
• No resident spoke in support of the project.
After the comments, County Judge Paul Pape explained that he has not been in contact with SISD, and that the project would be a financial benefit to them. And because of the "Robin Hood" school property tax law, the Chapter 313 plan is a way around that. In the long run, SISD benefits with upwards of $1.5 million in tax money per year.
Commissioner Clara Beckett said that she's not an expert in Chapter 313, and SISD has sought legal counsel to guide them. She wants to help get the property tax burden off of the homeowner and is always trying to find a way to. She does have concerns about property depreciation from the solar farm and is taking that into account; said that all companies that get Chapter 313 help come in later and complain about depreciation to the local appraisal district. The next action would be the tax abatement vote on Nov. 9.
Judge Pape cited the Go Green company that came in and got an abatement to make fuel out of the burned pine trees as a way to create jobs, and an RWE abatement would be consistent with other abatements the county has handed out in the past. He liked the $200 million asset of RWE "on the ground" and said the county has reduced the tax rate by .08 cents in the past 8 years, getting the county rate in-line with other counties. The $200 million allows them to shift the tax burden off of homeowners, he said.
Beckett commented that as commissioners, they have no zoning authority and no control on what can be built on their property, minus driveways, septic, and development permits. Having RWE sign a contract for a tax abatement would allow them to get some concessions for adjoining property owners; an abatement is a doorway to negotiations, and she said that the public's comments are not a waste of time. Pct. 1 Commissioner Mel Hamner said that abatements are their way to control the construction and to try and work for them in order to get something back for the county.
Beckett made a motion to approve the "reinvestment zone" and Hamner seconded that motion, it passed 4-0.
November 5, 2020
Guests: 20 concerned area residents, reporter from The Texas Observer
Objective: Inform residents on the status of the county's tax abatement vote for RWE, strategize next steps, collect emails.
The takeaway: The group came away with a more balanced idea on what RWE was about and how best to present our ideas to county commissioners.
November 9, 2020
Guests: Rosanky area residents at the Bastrop County Commissioner's Court meeting
Objective: Seek a delay in the vote for RWE tax abatement to allow more time for fact gathering.
The takeaway: We had 15 Rosanky area residents in attendance, 6 of which rose to speak in opposition to the RWE/Big Star Solar development. The court decided to table the tax abatement vote until their next meeting, citing a lack of data to consider the contract.
November 12, 2020
Guests: 25 Rosanky area residents, reporter from The Smithville Times/Austin-American Statesman
Objective: Discuss previous county court meeting, provide ideas for moving forward, agther strengths and weaknesses, get input from residents
The takeaway: Residents decided to pitch in to create an opposition website and consider yard signs.
Commentary: We went around the group and each resident voiced their main concerns for the project. They were:
• Devaluation of adjoining property, loss of wildlife, loss of bees
• Loss of wildlife, fires from malfunctioning equipment
• Fires, loss of wildlife, solar farms are not safe, the lithium batteries they use are bad for the environment and nearby residents
• Loss of wildlife, noise from the battery containers, land devaluation, threat to the Eastern bluebird habitat, concerns on the landscape and pesticides close to neighboring properties, loss of TV and radio signals traveling over the solar panels
• A wildlife disaster, tax abatements for corporations are bad
• Land degradation, habitat loss, herbicide runoff, well-established nearby wildlife exemptions will be affected,
• Land destruction, changes in wildlife patterns, runoff, changes in the soil, loss of peace and quiet, unsafe battery storage containers essentially in landowner's backyards, lithium battery fires are very dangerous
• Against tax abatements, aka: “corporate welfare”
• “Try to sell a house with a solar farm in the back yard.”
• The negotiations between RWE and neighbors have been terrible, how can they get an almost 100 percent tax abatement?, destroying our neighborhood
• The solar farm will go up to my back yard...what will that do to my property? I don't want to sit on my porch and have to look at a solar farm
• What about property values? Detriment to wildlife, will there be elevated EMF levels with the increased electricity running through the power lines from the property?
• Will destroy peace and quiet
• EMFs from the electrical grid are unseen, could be dangerous, what effect do they have on the human body?
• The county is using past tax abatements as a defense of this one. The previous abatements to electrical providers were given 20 years ago, why must we have to do the same now?
• Concerns about property devaluation, ecological problems... What's coming next? A prison? Landfill?
• Increased traffic
• Water rights
• We are fighting to keep our sanity and for our grandkids
• Solar power is inefficient, mining operations for lithium that goes into the batteries is an environmental disaster, water contamination, solar panels are not recyclable, long term effects are unknown
• Concerns about powerline EMF problems in humans, there's just not anything good to say about this project.
November 23, 2020
The Rosanky Rural Alliance again traveled to the Bastrop County Commissioners Court meeting to voice their concerns on the solar development. After their comments, County Judge Paul Pape addressed the gallery and delivered information on the contract the court is negotiating with RWE Renewables.
December 7, 2020
The Smithville ISD Board of Trustees heard a quick presentation regarding the opposition to the RWE/Big Star Solar development from the Rosanky Rural Alliance. In the public comments section, a request was made to include the Alliance on the agenda of the regular January SISD board meeting and to hold a board workshop in Rosanky in order to speak with locals and view the proposed solar farm site.
December 28, 2020
The Bastrop County Commissioners Court held a regular meeting in which the RWE solar farm was discussed but not voted on. Citizens speaking before the court were Erik McCowan, Kurt Hammons, Jim Rose, and Pat Riley.
County Judge Paul Pape read an exchange between himself and an RWE representative on questions that the public has posed regarding environmental concerns. Those messages are printed below, the comments in RED coming from RWE.
Before the motion was tabled because of lack of anything to vote on, Pct. 3 Commissioner Mark Meuth asked the judge to present him the original application from RWE to the County requesting the Chapter 312 tax abatement, of which Judge Pape said that he would send it over. Then, Pct. 4 Commissioner Donna Snowden asked Judge Pape if the Bastrop County District Attorney had reviewed the answers that RWE sent to the judge, or if anyone else from the county's legal team could review them. "I think that is something we should do," Snowden said. Judge Pape said that he will ask the DA for his opinions.
Pct. 2 Commissioner Clara Beckett said that RWE has submitted a development permit to county offices and again explained that if the commissioners were to deny the tax abatements to RWE, that in turn the county would lose whatever negotiating tools they are allowed under the terms of any Chapter 312 agreement to get concessions for area landowners from RWE. She said that it was time for the proposal to be submitted and the commissioners to vote on it.
Judge Pape again reiterated that the court has been working with RWE in order to get the best deal for residents of the Rosanky area regarding the solar farm. "We lose bargaining power without the abatement agreement," he said. He also said that RWE lawyers must have a "lump in their throat" because of the delay they have had in re-sending the county's abatement contract back for a vote. He continued, stating that they were trying to protect the area with what tools they are lawfully allowed, which is very little because of state law. The county has no option but to pass the abatement agreement that has protections build in to protect landowners.
After a question in which a resident asked what would become of an agreement on land already purchased by RWE (which has occurred based on Bastrop CAD documents), Commissioner Beckett said that the tax abatement would only cover what is build or purchased AFTER the agreement is authorized. Pape said that they could not abate the land that was already purchased by RWE before the county's Chapter 312 agreement is authorized.
January 19, 2021
Smithville ISD heard a report by the law firm of Moak, Casey, & Associates on the Chapter 313 Property Value Limitations that was supplied from the Texas comptroller's office. The lawyers didn't provide much information that was new. If you read the report prior to the meeting, they basically just read from their prepared bullet points directly from their slick little power point presentation. Besides the lack of new information, it was striking how pro-RWE this law firm is. As one board member pointed out, RWE is paying Moak, Casey, & Associates to provide SISD with this report. That does not offer many hopes of transparency and unbiased opinions. You get what you pay for.
The document is below. If you would like to see some actual numbers, jump to Page 8 for a breakdown on the tax giveaways that RWE expects to receive from the district, upwards of $10 million.
March 2, 2021
The first week of land clearing for the RWE solar industrial facility at the Austin Energy electrical substation site.
March 4, 2021
Busy day. Rosanky Rural Alliance members Erik and Jim appeared in the general comments portion of the Austin City Council to inform them of the situation in Rosanky. Since Austin Energy has plans to build an electrical substation on property leased by RWE, we figured that Austin leaders might not know that the green energy they are purchasing comes from land that had all of its trees bulldozed in order to put up the solar cells. The comments are below. Click on the player and the video will begin at the comments.
Later that day, we held our first Rosanky Rural Alliance meeting of the year. Updates were given on the status of the RWE development, including news that earlier in the week, heavy equipment crews had begin the destructive process of clearing trees from the Virginia W. Watterson tract (Scott Lane Miller, Timothy Ray Miller, 203 Shady Elm, Georgetown Texas 78633) on Cistern Road. We were joined by Smithville ISD Board of Trustees candidate Michele Rutherford, who wanted to gather information from the locals on their views of the solar facility.
March 29, 2021
We had a good showing at the Smithville ISD Board of Trustees meeting with 10 Rosanky-area residents making the drive into town, three of which signed up to speak. Although the meeting with SISD and lawyer Oscar Trevinio of Walsh Gallegos Trevino Russo & Kyle P.C was closed to the public, Board President Alan Hemphill took time to explain to us where they are in the tax abatement process with RWE/Big Star Solar LLC. Though we wish that their meeting with the lawyer could have been made in public, we understand that they are merely following state law as it pertains to negotiating contracts with outside entities.
That being said, we still hold firm our opposition to the solar industrial facility that RWE "Renewables" proposes to build in Rosanky. And our wish is that SISD will vote "NO" on the Chapter 313 tax abatement agreement when it comes up for a vote, expected to be anywhere from May to July. We appreciate the trustees' attention to the matter and their careful deliberation.
Six members of the board voted to allow the lawyers to negotiate a contract with RWE for a future vote, with Trustee Howard Burns being the lone vote against. We appreciate his continued public opposition to this solar industrial facility and their millions in tax breaks they seek.
Now, these lawyers are the ones that were hired from the $75,000 application fee paid for by RWE back in September. These lawyers are supposed experts in Chapter 313 tax breaks, which RWE wants. How can we trust that this is a transparent and fair process when this law firm is being paid directly by RWE in this negotiating process? Further, we all know what RWE wants out of SISD and its taxpayers, so why the need for any more negotiations from the district?
We have filed a Freedom of Information Act open records request with SISD to be able to inspect the data that was presented in closed session last night.
Just a reminder: SISD and its trustees have not stated a public position for or against the RWE facility. By all accounts, they are merely following the rules and allowing this to play out as authorized by law. Expect a public hearing on the matter when the contract is decided by RWE's lawyers, in addition to a public workshop.