Wharton County

Get the Facts

Learn more about solar energy here! Below are answers to some of the most-asked questions about solar energy and the Sandy Branch Solar Project.

Solar photovoltaic (“PV”) panels typically consist of silicon, tempered glass, aluminum, copper, and semiconductor materials. Silicon, an element most commonly found in sand, has conductive properties that allow it to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity. When light interacts with a silicon cell, it causes electrons to be set into motion, which initiates a flow of electric current in a process known as the “photovoltaic effect”. 1

A solar farm is a large group of solar panels that operate together as one power generation facility, delivering electricity to the existing electric grid. Solar farms are typically arranged in parallel rows with approximately 8 feet wide access buffers between each row.

A panel array, which includes both PV panel and rack mounting, typically stands around 12 feet tall. The mounting racks are supported by steel pile foundations generally set up to 8 feet into the ground without the use of concrete. Panel designs currently being evaluated by ConnectGen include single-axis tracking mounting, which rotate slowly from east to west once a day, keeping the sun at a 90-degree angle from the panels to ensure maximum energy is absorbed. Each section of solar panels is typically fenced off to ensure security and safe operation.

Other project infrastructure present at a solar farm includes common electrical equipment such as inverters and transformers and the electrical equipment necessary to deliver energy to the existing electrical grid such as underground and overhead transmission lines. ConnectGen’s projects may also include a battery storage facility.

The Sandy Branch Solar Project has leased all necessary land from a single rancher who independently raises cattle on the property. In addition, the interconnection point is located on the project site and will require no additional agricultural land to be used to connect the project to the electric grid.

The U.S. has a long history of supporting energy infrastructure through the tax code.  Most energy infrastructure receives some form of federal tax incentive, including oil and gas.  The incentive for solar energy is called the Investment Tax Credit (ITC).  This tax credit attracts private investment to solar projects, which drives significant new economic activity, including solar manufacturing and construction jobs.  It also helps reduce the overall cost of energy from solar projects, which is good for ratepayers.

Texas has some of the highest property tax rates in the country.  In recognition of this, Texas created Chapter 312 and 313 of the Texas Economic Development Act of 2001, which give local taxing authorities the tools to attract private investment that might otherwise be redirected to other states with lower property tax rates.  Chapter 312 and 313 are not specific to solar projects.  Any private developer with a proposed investment may seek these incentives, which are designed to provide a net benefit to local communities over the life of the incentive.

Many counties and cities offer incentive programs to attract new business and support local economic growth. Wharton County and local municipalities currently offer favorable tax incentives and grants for businesses that expand the local economy.

Yes, solar projects pay a considerable amount of taxes starting on day one of operation and continuing throughout the life of the project.

ConnectGen will be fully responsible for maintaining the solar farm and associated equipment, as well as the property within the Sandy Branch Solar Project’s boundaries. Landscape maintenance at the solar farm will be performed by companies contracted directly by ConnectGen.

Yes. Because the PV panel materials are enclosed and do not mix with water or vaporize into the air, there is little-to-no risk of chemicals, including greenhouse gases, being released into the environment during normal use. Crystalline silicon PV panels, an extremely common panel variant used around the world, “do not pose a material risk of toxicity to public health and safety.”2 Additionally, any Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) produced by solar panel systems are in the same extremely low frequency range as those induced by household appliances.3

All solar facilities are designed to strict electrical safety standards to ensure safe operation. Product safety standards, installation requirements, and building codes for solar facilities are addressed by the National Fire Protection Agency’s National Electrical Code, the International Code Council’s International Fire Code, the International Association of Firefighters, and several other safety and product standards groups.4

ConnectGen will be fully responsible for the security of the facility and for maintaining consistent safety standards within the project area.

Temporary, elevated noise levels may occur during the construction phase of a solar farm, but once construction is complete, an operating solar farm emits minimal noise during the day and is dormant at night.  ConnectGen is committed to taking steps to minimize and mitigate visual impacts of the project through vegetative buffers and setbacks from property lines, which will provide additional sound dampening benefits, as well.

ConnectGen is responsible for the decommissioning and removal of all project infrastructure at the end of the project’s life. As added protection for project landowners and host municipalities, ConnectGen will put financial security in place early in the life of the Sandy Branch Solar Project to ensure that the host community and landowner will bear no responsibility for decommissioning or restoration.

1 Energy Sage: “How do Solar Panels Work?: https://news.energysage.com/solar-panels-work/

2 “Health and Safety Impacts of Photovoltaics.” N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/static/publication/js/pdf_js/web/viewer.html?slug=health-and-safety-impacts-of-solar-photovoltaics

3 NYSERDA New York Solar Guidebook: https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/-/media/NYSun/files/Model-Solar-Energy-Law-Guidance-Document.pdf

4 SEIA: Fire Safety & Solar: https://www.seia.org/initiatives/fire-safety-solar

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