Renewable energy supporters are bracing for a fight in the next legislative session. Help state lawmakers give to solar and wind companies must be renewed when lawmakers return to Austin in January.
The state allows local cities and counties to make agreements with energy companies; governments will collect less in property taxes in exchange for business investments and jobs in a certain community. They’re known as Chapter 312 and Chapter 313 agreements and representatives from many renewable energy companies say they chose Texas because of them.
However, ahead of the session, a well-known conservative think tank has set its sights on stripping the state of tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy companies.
Cutter Gonzalez, a policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, says the state should not help an industry that already receives incentives from the Federal Government. The group launched a year-long effort to wear down lawmaker’s taste for offering help; create digital videos highlighting neighbor complaints of the sound, the view, and underperforming economic activity.
“What we’ve seen with renewables is they just don’t bring the jobs. You see a big wind farm or a big solar farm, there aren’t a lot of people working on those things,” said Gonzalez.
Oil and gas companies also receive generous state benefits. Critics of TPPF’s efforts say the think-tank is doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry leaders – and their politically connected donors – who are trying to eliminate up-start competition. When asked, Gonzalez says that’s not the case.
“It’s oversimplifying certainly because we would like to end subsidies for everyone. If we found a viable way to end subsidies for everyone, we would do it. We are free market people,” said Gonzalez.
To combat the effort, the Wind-Solar Alliance launched a campaign to show the economic results of the incentives. They invited legislative staff and lawmakers to E.ON in downtown Austin, a German-based company employing 160 Texans.
Jeff Clark, President of the Wind Coalition, says the wind industry supports 33,000 jobs in Texas – well worth the state tax abatements. The benefits, he says, has helped Texas become the national leader in wind energy.
“We are the model and we’re taking this model not only to the country but to the rest of the world. The future of energy is renewables, storage, and natural gas,” said Clark.
Clark also points out more than $1 billion in 2017 investment in local communities and more than $200 million in local tax revenue – would not exist if companies weren’t lured to Texas with incentives.
In short, he wants a level playing field: if oil and gas companies get help from the state, renewables should too.
“Like it has in any other industry, economics and technology are playing a role in energy,” said Clark.
This will be a larger battle of a raging war; a smaller battle was fought and won by wind energy critics last session. In 2017, state lawmakers rolled back tax exemptions for wind-power near military bases. Central Texas Republican Senator Donna Campbell authored SB 277 and it passed into law. It prevents wind farm owners from receiving a property tax abatement if their wind turbines are located within 25 nautical miles of a military aviation facility.
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts keeps track of 313 agreements. The latest figures from 2016 show that of more than 300 projects that benefit over half are renewable energy. However, the dollar amounts skew a different way. Those renewable energy projects only reaped a quarter of the $7.1 billion dollars worth of company savings.