Hopkins makes two more big decisions on solar
The Hopkins County commissioners heard comments regarding personal liberty from residents of the Dike community and made several decisions regarding solar developments, among other items of business at the regular September 13 commissioners court.
Court opened at 9:01 a.m. and Dike citizens filled the room, although several members of the gallery did not present any comments before the court. At 9:03 a.m., County Judge Robert opened the floor to citizen comments.
Dike citizen Michele Barnes was first to speak. She stated she had recently learned about the existence of Hopkins County incorporated city Tira.
“They don’t have any city property taxes, and that is what we in Dike would like also,” she stated.
Barnes stated that in regards to property rights, “when someone builds an industrial solar power plant, you have infringed the property rights of those around you.”
For Barnes, the distinction between a “solar plant” and “solar panels” is an important one.
“This is not just some simple solar panels… it is a complex that will have an inverter that will make noise,” Barnes warned. “Just wait.”
“They are planning to take over the Dike area, because they are crossing CR 3518 and expanding into another area,” Barnes claimed.
Barnes further stated Hopkins county media outlets are not taking into account “attempts to save our rural heritage from an industrial complex.”
Dike citizen Ben Fuller disagreed with Barnes, calling solar power “forward-thinking.”
“I think it’s the way we ought to go,” Fuller said. “We already know fossil fuels are not the way to go.”
“It all comes back to ‘this is my piece of property,’” Fuller said.
Dike citizen Wayne Ray, reappearing before the court for the second time in a month, marveled at the advancements in clean energy solar brings.
“I see no reason for Dike to be a city, except to tax the solar,” Ray said. “The post office is about as near a city as Dike needs.”
“I’m going to stay happy on my little piece of land,” he emphasized. “I’m not about solar or not solar, I’m about property rights.”
In fact, said Ray, he found renewable energy “an exciting deal.”
“If you’d have told me when I was a kid you could get energy from the sunlight, I’d thought they were nuts,” he said. “Now, when I see a solar deal, I stop and take a picture… I just cannot believe what progress is.”
Landowners Jonas and Melanie Helm told the court the decision to lease their land to French company Engie for the solar installation was not one they took lightly, and both said they had “prayed on it many nights.”
As an alumnus of Sulphur Bluff school, Melanie Helm said she looks forward to the estimated $571,000 the school will receive annually in tax revenues from the solar installation.
“It’s not like I didn’t know what I was signing,” Jonas Helm said. “It was about our kids and our grandkids, and never once was it a malicious act to destroy Dike and destroy the community.”
With no further citizen comments, the public comment portion was closed at 9:24 a.m.
NEW SOLAR DEVELOPMENTS
The court opened the floor for a public hearing at 9:26 a.m. regarding a planned solar development by Stampede Solar near the Saltillo community.
There were Saltillo citizens present in the court and Newsom asked if they would like to comment. They declined. The public comment portion was closed at 9:31 a.m.
The court then unanimously authorized a 381 agreement for the planned Saltillo development, also known as a TIFF (tax increment financing fund), which Economic Development Corporation executive director Roger Feagley called “a benign little area.”
The court asked Feagley how large the planned 381 area for Saltillo would be, and although Feagley did not address the geographic scope of the project, he stated the term of length for a 381 agreement was five years, after which point it would be re-evaluated.
The court also evaluated a request from Pine Forest Solar to amend their 381 agreement.
“The agreement really didn’t change… the only change is they want to pay their property taxes in total the first two years, and then enter into the agreement,” Feagley said. “Basically, we’re just moving the agreement back two years.”
Feagley also noted the company plans to purchase over $100 million worth of batteries.
Newsom clarified that by pushing the 381 agreement back two years, the land used for the solar installation will come off the tax rolls as agriculture-exempt and enter into the tax rolls as commercial land. Feagley confirmed Newsom was correct.
With no further discussion, the court unanimously approved the request.
By Taylor Nye