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Mayor believes “implications are huge” for employment, tax revenues
Promising hundreds of jobs and at least $30 million in tax revenues to the county and school district over thirty years, the Leeward renewable energy company began construction last week on a solar farm at the outskirts of Pearsall.
The groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, June 15, at the new Horizon Solar facility on the west side of IH-35 included brief speeches by Leeward company representatives, the building contractor, the county judge, and the mayor of Pearsall. Also present were the school district superintendent, the Pearsall city manager, and a representative from the office of US Congressman Tony Gonzales.
The Leeward company is based in Dallas and has 22 renewable energy sites over a nine-state area.
Carved out of 1,600 acres of previously undeveloped ranch land, the solar farm is expected to generate 500,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy annually by capturing sunlight in specially positioned panels and feeding the electricity into the Texas grid. Company representatives touted the farm’s advantages in eliminating the carbon footprint of heavy industry in generating electricity, its supply to an increasing demand for power in Texas, and the “payments in lieu of taxes” PILOT program to the county and school district at start-up.
According to both Mayor Ben Briscoe and County Judge Arnulfo Luna, who acknowledged that the county will benefit from the added jobs in the Pearsall area, the long-lasting impact of the farm in Frio County will be the PILOT program that has served as an incentive to Leeward to choose the site.
Once the PILOT program expires, Briscoe said, Leeward will begin paying property taxes to the county, school and hospital districts at a rate commensurate with the increased value of the land.
The site is presently outside Pearsall city limits. Mayor Briscoe did not rule out future municipal expansion in the northwesterly direction, at which time the city would likewise benefit from an increase in property tax revenues.
“This is one of the best things to come here for a while,” Judge Luna said. “The tax contribution is significant, and there is minimal water use. This puts Frio County on the solar map, and we offer advantages for businesses coming here. We are proud to be the location for this facilit6y and we look forward to a long and prosperous relationship.”
Omar Aboudaher, Leeward vice president of development, said he believes the farm site is “a great location for solar,” with its ease of connectivity, accessibility, and the availability of nearby labor.
Leeward expects the farm to have a service life of at least thirty years.
McCarthy Construction has been contracted to build the farm for Leeward and expects to employ between 150 and 200 local workers, all of whom will be trained in how to install the equipment. The Horizon Solar plant at Pearsall is the eighth such project in the state for McCarthy, which recently completed installation of renewable energy farms at Ennis and Corsicana, Texas.
Cameron Coleman, Leeward’s project manager for the solar farm, said his company spent five years developing the project for Frio County and that he expects Horizon Solar to “become a contributing member of the community.” Contributions have already been made to local youth programs such as Little League and softball, according to Aboudaher.
Mayor Briscoe said he believes construction of a solar farm outside Pearsall marks a step in mankind’s long progression from dependence on labor to reliance on electricity for life’s essentials.
“We are a tight community, and this will expand our tax base by approximately a million dollars per year,” the mayor said. “This is hugely significant, especially when you add to that the employment and local businesses – restaurants and hotels – benefiting during construction.
“Who was here five hundred years ago?” the mayor asked, pointing to the land that will be occupied by the solar farm. “A third of our waking time today is spent working. Five hundred years ago, the people who made arrowheads here spent their whole lives looking for food and for ways to cook it. Think about the significance of electricity to our lives.
“We produce twelve percent of the nation’s electricity in Texas, and we have diverse resources to do it with,” Briscoe said. “Solar systems work, and the implications are huge.”