Fort Bend County is powering up–solar style!

  • Post Date: October 16, 2019
  • Category: Blog
  • Author: Rachelle Kanak

Known for its master-planned communities and diverse population of people and businesses, the new hot thing in Fort Bend is solar power – specifically, solar farms and the tremendous power and capital investment they generate.

Two years ago, there was not a solar farm in Fort Bend. Today, there are three and more are planned. The reason? Well, there are several.

Land and More Land

Fort Bend County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States, estimated to reach 1 million in population in the next several years, is still 60 percent undeveloped. There are large tracts of land with single landowners, waiting for the right opportunity to be developed. Land is relatively inexpensive in the undeveloped areas of Fort Bend compared to neighboring counties, and because solar farms do not need utilities, pockets of land even further out in the rural areas of the county which are not ready for traditional commercial development are ideal for a solar farm.

Close to Transmission Lines

Large tracts of land alone are not enough to generate interest in solar activity. It’s important that the solar panels be within a mile of a major energy transmission line to ensure the power the panels generate is fed into the transmission lines and sent across the county and beyond. Fort Bend has two major transmission lines that solar power can feed into, both of which run through rural areas of the county with large tracts of available land. The value-add of land that’s so closely tied to the transmission lines have pushed Fort Bend to the top of the list for those looking to invest in solar power.

Additionally, the power generation is clean and creates no collateral damage. The land is virtually undisturbed other than panel installation. The panels and the energy capture process are both safe and do not damage the environment. With little risk and tremendous upside, the process is safe and effective.

Solar Power Has Tax Benefits

A perfect fit, however, does not mean a perfect match necessarily. Fort Bend County capitalizes on this type of land and the proximity to transmission lines because of the pro-business, pro-growth culture of local government. Solar farm developers are able to benefit from state and national tax credits and benefits including accelerated depreciation, but it takes the ingenuity and can-do attitude of a local government to make that work in the local community. These projects are incentivized through complicated formulas to ensure the company invests and the taxpayer benefits, and only communities committed to long-term, sustainable, quality growth can balance those interests in a responsible and effective way.

Fort Bend Has Plans for Solar Power

Additionally, understanding the differences in land opportunities is imperative for generational growth. Fort Bend has been vigilant in protecting future commercial and industrial property primed for development along major corridors and potential hubs, knowing not every piece of land is created equal. What works theoretically may not be the highest and best use of the property, and the economic development team in Fort Bend County measures the best use of land and how to grow the commercial tax base in a responsible way ensuring current and long-term commercial activity.

In 18 months, over $1 billion, that’s “billion” with a “B”, have been invested or committed to in Fort Bend County in solar farm development, and nearly $400 million more is anticipated before the end of the calendar year. Although the state provides an incentive of accelerated depreciation for ten years on the personal property with the accelerated depreciated value also being the market value for CAD market value, in years 11 through 30 after incentives expire, the residual market value on the tax rolls shall be no less than 20% of the initial market value in Yr 1 of the incentive term.

Solar Brings Tax Revenue

Consider also that previously agricultural-exempt land being converted to industrial use, solar power generation with a previous tax roll agricultural market value significantly below market value, is now brought back to true market value on the tax rolls. This is a multiple several times over the ‘ag value’ of the land on the tax rolls. So in addition to increased taxes on true market value of the land every year going forward, there is also an agricultural exemption penalty paid to the county by the landowner equal to the previous 5 years of taxes on the land had it not been under agricultural exemption, which in itself represents a significant lump sum paid to the county at termination of the ag exemption.

Fort Bend County and the area school district(s) taxpayers will reap the benefits of this investment for generations to come.

Bottom line: Everyone Wins With Solar

Nearly 5,000 acres of property in Fort Bend County will soon be populated with solar panels, generating clean energy that can be piped directly into the power transmission lines powering thousands of homes and businesses. School districts in rural parts of the county and Fort Bend County residents as a whole will see an influx in property tax dollars that will lessen the burden on the residential taxpayer. The county’s commitment to clean energy attracts subsidiary and complementary businesses to the county which will further grow the commercial tax base. The solar farm panels are above ground and do little or no damage to the land they occupy, making it usable in the future for additional development. It’s a win-win-win-win-win!

So, what’s next? Well, we can’t share that, but be assured, Fort Bend will be on the cutting edge of economic development and commercial growth!