So­lar farm may sprout soon in east­ern Travis

Startup has land, plans but is wait­ing for a county tax deal

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Asher Price

A startup so­lar en­ergy com­pany with cor­po­rate back­ing from In­dia has won tax breaks from the City of Pflugerville and is near a sim­i­lar agree­ment with the El­gin school district to build a 60-megawatt so­lar plant.

The plant would be large enough to pro­vide elec­tric­ity to all the homes in Pflugerville and, if it were built to­day, would be the largest in the United States.

RRE Austin So­lar could break ground by the end of the sum­mer on the $230 mil­lion

Con­tin­ued from A1 plant on 600 or so acres of ru­ral land about a dozen miles east of Pflugerville. But be­fore the com­pany moves for­ward, it wants tax breaks from Travis County.

The com­pany would em­ploy about a half-dozen peo­ple, long term, to op­er­ate the plant, said An­ge­los An­gelou, an Austin-based con­sul­tant on the project. He said that if the com­pany gets prop­erty tax breaks from the county, it will con­sider head­quar­ter­ing the startup, with about 20 em­ploy­ees, in Austin.

An­gelou said RRE Austin So­lar is backed by NEPC In­dia Ltd. and Re­Gen Pow­ertech, com­pa­nies that have a 25-year his­tory of de­vel­op­ing re­new­able en­ergy in In­dia, mostly man­u­fac­tur­ing wind tur­bines. He said the U.S. govern­ment will sub­si­dize 30 per­cent of the cap­i­tal costs of the plant.

On the lo­cal level, RRE Austin So­lar won a tax break agree­ment in early June from Pflugerville. Un­der the agree­ment, RRE Austin So­lar will in­stall for Pflugerville and the Pflugerville school district up to $750,000 in so­lar pan­els and small wind tur­bines and pro­vide ed­u­ca­tional train­ing to the school district. It has ne­go­ti­ated, but not yet fi­nal­ized, a sim­i­lar agree­ment with the El­gin school district, which is also likely to limit taxes.

An­gelou said that de­spite the tax breaks, the lo­cal gov­ern­ments will ben­e­fit from the project. He said the El­gin district could gain close to $1 mil­lion a year in tax rev­enue from the land; it now col­lects less than $5,000. He said the county, which now col­lects less than $1,000 a year, would get close to $60,000. District and county of­fi­cials cor­rob­o­rated those es­ti­mates.

Mayor Jeff Cole­man said Pflugerville in­sisted that the so­lar farm carry the city’s name as a brand­ing strat­egy.

“Cen­tral Tex­ans are very in­ter­ested in green technology and be­ing good to the en­vi­ron­ment,” he said. “This is an op­por­tu­nity for the city to cre­ate a name within the Cen­tral Texas green com­mu­nity.”

El­gin school Su­per­in­ten­dent Bill Graves said the project won his district’s sup­port be­cause it “will not have any kind of strain on the en­vi­ron­ment, it will be a tremen­dous eco­nomic devel­op­ment pro­gram, and it at­tracts peo­ple who are very em­ploy­able, who are ed­u­cated and who are likely to have chil­dren that will do well in school.”

Travis County is still weigh­ing whether to grant a tax break and, if so, what size, said Rod­ney Rhoades, ex­ec­u­tive man­ager for the county’s Plan­ning and Bud­get Of­fice. He would not dis­close the kinds of in­cen­tives RRE Austin So­lar is re­quest­ing.

The 60-megawatt plant, which could be op­er­a­tional by 2014, could pro­duce enough elec­tric­ity to power about 40,000 homes, An­gelou said.

The Pflugerville land, near Manda Carl­son Road and Felder Lane, is un­der a pend­ing con­tract with RRE Austin So­lar. An­gelou said the site is ideal be­cause it is on the path of a trans­mis­sion line. He said it was one of 60 or so sites the com­pany ex­am­ined across the coun­try for the plant.

He said the com­pany has no buyer in mind for the elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated by the plant.

The two In­dian com­pa­nies want to do strictly so­lar farms in the United States, An­gelou said, with a goal of in­stalling enough so­lar farms across the coun­try in com­ing years to gen­er­ate 600 megawatts at any given time, as­sum­ing fa­vor­able weather con­di­tions.

Na­tion­wide, the in­stalled so­lar pho­to­voltaic ca­pac­ity in the United States is roughly 90 megawatts, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

An­other so­lar plant, in Web­berville in east­ern Travis County, re­mains un­der devel­op­ment. In 2009, the Austin City Coun­cil voted to spend $10 mil­lion an­nu­ally for 25 years to buy power from that so­lar ar­ray, which will be big enough to gen­er­ate 30 megawatts. Austin En­ergy spokesman Ed Clark said the project could be com­pleted by the end of 2011.

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