A petroleum trading firm, Chem-Energy Corp., will invest $1 billion in solar and battery power plants with two facilities south of Austin.
Construction on the Caldwell County plants will start with the solar complex in spring 2022 in Uhland. That facility has a planned opening in 2023 and will be followed with construction on a site in Martindale. According to the Greater San Marcos Partnership, the facilities will create 400 full-time jobs in the first year and the average wages will meet or exceed $53,200 a year.
California-based Chem-Energy boasts their facilities will provide 600 megawatt/1,200 megawatt-hours in battery storage and 1 gigawatt of solar power generation over a decade. The plants will primarily serve ERCOT and the Texas power grid, and join a host of others in the oil and gas sector making small pivots to renewables while sticking with core business activities, including work in petrochemicals and refinery projects.
Chief of Staff at Chem-Energy Clint Evans said the team is enthusiastic about the facilities being in his stomping grounds, as he's a Texas State University alumnus. "We're grateful to God for providing a huge win for the Texas Innovation Corridor," he said.
The plans require a few partnerships, including with Kore Power, which will provide high energy density NMC batteries for power storage. CEO Lindsay Gorrill said Kore Power is thrilled by the partnership and its plans "to provide Texas with long-term, reliable energy resources that will strengthen the Texas Interconnection electric grid system."
In a special meeting last week, Caldwell County commissioners unanimously approved performance-based incentives for Chem-Energy. The deal, known as a Chapter 381 agreement, allows counties to establish tax abatements and administer loans and grants of public money to promote economic development. According to the Austin Business Journal, details of the agreement weren't immediately available, but include a projected $22.4 million in added total net tax revenue over 10 years.
"We welcome the largest economic development win in the Texas Innovation Corridor to Caldwell County," County Judge Hoppy Haden said. "This is a seismic development for our region which will establish several new opportunities in our community."
In a pledge to the Austin Community College Hays Campus, Chem-Energy said the Martindale facility will include the country's first standardized solar PV and battery storage training facility where those hired can earn certifications. Chem-Energy says they'll be focused on recruiting locally and are expecting to hire in April 2022 with the training facility following in late spring that year. Trainees will undergo three months in the classroom and then another 30 days of lab and hands-on training.
Jason Giulietti, president of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, described Chem-Energy's move into the region as "unprecedented economic development opportunities."
"Between the high-paying jobs, the incoming workforce training facilities, and our region becoming a future resource to the statewide power grid, this will unquestionably raise the quality of life for residents throughout the Texas Innovation Corridor," Giulietti said.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.