Llano County looking closer at solar for school lands

By Phil Reynolds
The Highlander

Llano County Commissioners have approved an agreement that would let a development company investigate the possibility of solar power generation on Llano ISD school lands in Tom Green County.
The commissioners took the action after an hour-long meeting behind closed doors Monday, Nov. 20. The agreement is in principle, said County Judge Mary Cunningham, but she said details still have to be worked out. Cunningham declined to reveal prices, referring questions to the Llano County Attorney’s office. That office hadn’t returned phone calls as of press time Tuesday.
The agreement follows an original proposal from E.ON back in April, when commissioners discussed prices of $30 per acre per month during engineering and development and $300 a month per acre after the solar farm begins generating electricity.
The agreement approved Monday is with EC&R Solar Development LLC, which is listed as a subsidiary of E.ON SE.
The land in Tom Green County is so-called public school land, acreage deeded to public schools to help finance them. The acreage being discussed belongs to the Llano ISD, with up to 7,000 acres being leased altogether. Engineers talked about starting with 1,500 acres and increasing leased land in increments until the total is reached.
They said the investigation and engineering portion could take as long as five years.
Given those prices – if they’re agreed on – Llano ISD could wind up with as much as $2,100,000 a month from the leases. According to the agreement, the school district would continue to profit from existing grazing leases; lawyers are also negotiating a lease agreement with a company to mine a caliche and limestone deposit on the land, according to commissioners.
Llano ISD School Board President Rick Tisdale and Superintendent Mac Edwards were both cautiously optimistic about the proposal. Tisdale noted that it would be several years before the operation has reached its full potential.
“We’re not planning on anything until we see a check,” he said.
“I’m very optimistic,” Edwards said. “Some people are not, because we’ve seen it before.” Edwards referred to an expected oil boom a few years ago which would have put money into school coffers, but which never came about.
Llano ISD had a 2016 student population of 1,816 in four schools, according to the Texas Education Agency. The district includes Llano High School, Llanio Middle School, Llano Elementary School and Packsaddle Elementary School in Kingsland.
It is a so-called “Chapter 41,” or property-rich, school district, which means part of the revenue raised from property taxes is redirected to the State of Texas for distribution to poorer school districts. The additional income from solar farms would be used to offset some of that redistricution.

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