The Rio Grande Valley economy is fueled by a wide range of resources and industries from international trade to manufacturing; however, one of the most important and abundant resources is not  found in our land.

Currently, renewable energy in Starr County alone produces more than 1,000 MW of energy each year, not only keeping the lights on, but putting money into the pockets of hard-working Texans across our region.

Renewable energy is not only providing reliable energy, it is also providing reliable, well-paying jobs across the state. At our very own South Texas College, students are able to specialize their electrical engineering pathways around renewable energy-focused careers with other programs under development.  Already in nearby Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, students can earn a degree in Wind Energy Technology to prepare for a career in this growing industry. Wind turbine technicians are one of the fastest growing jobs in the nation, employing thousands of skilled local workers. 

Starr County Industrial Foundation President Rose Benavidez

The impact of renewable energy does not stop at jobs, since economic development programs like Chapter 313 provide a temporary tax abatement to companies so that school districts benefit from capital investments to rural areas and add value for their students. From the eight renewable energy projects located at least partially in Starr County, we have seen a $1.7 billion cumulative investment and $10.5 million in state and local taxes, much of that directly benefiting Roma ISD and Rio Grande City CISD.In addition to supporting our schools and workforce, local landowners who lease their land for renewable energy are profiting from this cashless crop, while still ranching or farming the land as their families have done for generations.

There is more expansion of this vital industry on the horizon. Construction will begin on a 200 MW solar farm that will span over 5,000 acres in Starr County. During construction, we expect to see an influx of short-term employment opportunities, supporting our local businesses like hotels and restaurants. Once completed, this project will bring full time jobs, landowner payments, tax dollars, and produce energy that will be shared throughout the state. Our community is already a leader in renewable energy, and this new project will continue to power our workforce and our homes.

As you likely know, Starr County has faced difficult times. At one point, budget cuts were being made and some jobs were lost, but that change in large part when renewable energy projects began to invest in our community. Since then, we have increased general revenue, paid off debt, reduced our unemployment rate and decrease our tax rate. There is no doubt that renewable energy has been a large contributing factor in improving our economic outlook.

This week, please join me in celebrating American Clean Power Week. Wind and solar energy have made a tremendous impact in Starr County and I hope other communities across the state are able to reap the same benefits we have from the most the abundant, unlimited, natural resources there are – the wind and the sun.

The above guest column was penned by Rose Benavidez, president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Benavidez can be reached by email via: [email protected]

The main image accompanying the above guest column was provided by American Clean Power Association.

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