Energizing economic development
New $1 billion project will power up 400 jobs in the Austin suburbs
Tesla isn’t the only driver of high-profile economic development activity in the Austin metro area.
Southern California-based Chem-Energy Corp., whose specialties include petroleum products, unveiled plans November 10 to invest more than $1 billion to build a solar power storage plant and a battery power storage plant in Caldwell County.
The solar power plant will be on a 3,518-acre site at Caldwell Valley Ranch, outside Uhland. Uhland, which sits in Caldwell and Hays counties, is a small town 12 miles northeast of San Marcos. Construction on the solar plant is set to start in the spring of 2022 and be completed the following year.
Once the Uhland facility is finished, work will start on the battery power plant near Martindale, a small Caldwell County town seven miles southeast of San Marcos. The acreage of that site wasn’t available.
Uhland and Martindale are situated in a San Marcos-anchored region known as the Texas Innovation Corridor.
“Caldwell County is the perfect strategic choice for our flagship operations in Texas,” Robert Hayward, chief operating officer of Chem-Energy, says in a news release. “With available land in a growing region, close proximity to Texas State University, and a robust workforce pipeline, the Texas Innovation Corridor provides an ideal environment for our organization’s growth.”
The news release indicates that other Chem-Energy facilities are planned “soon” for Central Texas.
The solar and battery power plants will primarily serve the Taylor-based Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which runs most of the state’s power grid. Other customers of the plants will include the Austin-based Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and the Bastrop-based Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.
The facilities will produce 400 full-time permanent jobs in the first year, with average annual pay of at least $53,200. Hiring is expected to start in January.
In partnership with the Hays County campus of Austin Community College in Kyle, the Martindale facility will be home to the country’s first comprehensive solar and battery storage training center. The center will train Chem-Energy technicians.
“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,” says Jason Giulietti, president of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, which promotes economic development in the San Marcos area.
Caldwell County has signed off on a $22.4 million tax incentive package for the two facilities.
“This is a seismic development for our region which will establish several new opportunities in our community,” Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden says.
Population growth has been less robust in Caldwell County than in the Austin metro area’s four other counties. Still, Caldwell County notched a population increase of 20.5 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In tandem with the population bump, Caldwell County has seen a rise in home prices. In September, the county’s median home price climbed 19.6 percent to $259,000 compared with the same month a year earlier, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. Caldwell County is the only metro county where the median home price remains below $300,000.
Of course, the Chem-Energy projects could trigger a spike in Caldwell County home prices.
The projects near Uhland and Martindale are the latest in a wave of economic activity happening east of I-35 in the Austin area. Most notably, Tesla is nearing completion in Travis County of a $1.1 billion auto manufacturing plant east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Meanwhile, Samsung is eyeing the Williamson County city of Taylor for a $17 billion chipmaking factory.