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French Company Joins Solar Industry March to West Texas


Yet another solar company is looking cash in on the wide-open skies of West Texas.

Paris-based Solairedirect has announced plans for a two-phase, 100-megawatt solar farm on a ranch about 14 miles east of Alpine in rural Brewster County. By the company's estimates, the plant could bring power to about 25,000 homes.

It would rival California competitor Recurrent Energy's plans to build its own 150-megawatt plant in West Texas. Recurrent hasn't yet said where exactly in the region it will build what would be the state's largest single solar facility.

Last month, the company announced it had secured a 20-year purchase agreement with Austin Energy for the project. Though both parties have since kept quiet about the terms of the deal, the utility had previously agreed to a similar 25-year deal with SunEdison to buy power for record-setting low prices.

"If you can't meet those prices, you're not gonna sell power," says Randy Sowell, a renewable energy consultant based in McCamey and the local representative for the French company's Brewster County project.

"They're attracted to the Texas market - it's about to break open," he says, "and the Recurrent award is a good indication of that."

According to Sowell, the company's already been in talks over a purchase agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority, along with utilities in Austin and San Antonio.

Solairedirect says the plant's expected to be fully operational by 2016. That's also when the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) expires, meaning we might see a rush of solar activity in West Texas over the next two years.

Sowell says given the 30% tax break the ITC offers, companies "can't ignore" that approaching deadline.

It's expected that Solairedirect will look to the county and Alpine ISD for further tax breaks, especially after similar breaks were recently given to two solar companies in neighboring Presidio County.

Solar companies are increasingly seeing those deals as essential, even though a bill that took effect this year already gives companies what amounts to a de-facto tax break: Under HB 2500, solar property values depreciate faster than they used to, meaning companies ultimately pay less in taxes over the same amount of time.

"If your competitors are writing these economic variables into their models, and you're not, then you're not competitive," Sowell says.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.