Sunday, June 20, 2010

Coupland area to be site of largest solar farm in U.S.

When we envision hundreds of acres of solar panels, we may think of an unpopulated area that is not good farmland. We probably don’t envision hundreds of acres of solar panels covering up our valuable Blackland Prairie. However, the Blackland Prairie Concerned Citizens Association (BPCCA), at their June 14 meeting, heard from a group who plans to put a solar farm on 550-600 acres on the west side of Manda-Carlson Road at Felder Lane, about 3-1/2 miles west/southwest of Coupland.

Over 70 attendees filled the New Sweden Lutheran Parish Hall to hear the group describe what they called “the largest solar plant in this country . . . one of the largest in the world.”

Marilyn Samuelson, BPCCA Vice President, moderated the meeting about the “City of Pflugerville Solar Farm Energy Project,” a project of RRE Austin Solar. In attendance was Victor Gonzales, the mayor pro tem of Pflugerville--the site is in the Pflugerville ETJ. The site also is in the Elgin ISD (EISD), but an EISD representative did not come. A representative came from the office of Travis County Commissioner Ron Davis.

Angelou introduced the people from the companies that are behind RRE: NEPC India Ltd. (Chennai, India), and Power Tech Pvt. Ltd. (Jamnagar, India). Raj Kumar Khemka is Vice Chairman of NEPC India. He was accompanied by two directors, Mr. Mehta and one other.

Angelou explained that the $240 million project will be built over a period of 2-1/2 years. He said, “This is going to be the largest project in the state of Texas. At 60 megawatts, it will be the largest in the U.S. There will be four to five permanent employees, with three to four hundred during the construction phase.” Construction could begin in January, 2011. The solar farm will connect to the nearby LCRA electric transmission line.

Elgin ISD and the City of Pflugerville have approved the project and will give it tax benefits. RRE is expecting the support of Travis County in the near future. The project has a letter of support from the State of Texas and will receive federal incentives. Angelou said, “Governments have to incentivize or the project can’t happen.”

Mehta mentioned that the project also would benefit from the carbon tax credits that will go into effect if a cap-and-trade system passes the Congress.

The RRE presentation referred to approval from and benefits for Elgin schools and Pflugerville, although the project is several miles from Elgin schools and Pflugerville. The people who are actually next to the plant have no authority or recourse. However, some attendees, realizing that this large site is available for any type of project, think that a solar plant is not the worst project that could be placed here.

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