Solar Rush

A New Solar Rush Creates Legal Minefield for Landowners
Texans tempted by solar power leases may have to give up more than they realize.
by Naveena Sadasivam

published on October 4th, by Texas Observer

In the last few months, Tiffany Dowell, a Texas A&M professor who provides legal information about the agriculture industry at the university’s extension program, has been inundated with cold calls from landowners in West Texas. Many of them had received fliers or letters from solar companies with offers to lease their land.

“They had questions,” Dowell said. “‘Are these companies legit?’ ‘What factors should I be considering?’”

The land rush indicates that the solar power sector in Texas, though small, is growing and maturing. In the last few years, the solar industry has been driven largely by cities, especially Austin and San Antonio, shifting away from fossil fuels. Traditionally, solar farm developers have looked for large parcels of land that can be leased from a single owner. With the first wave of large-scale projects underway and anticipation of more deals up for grabs from Austin Energy and San Antonio’s CPS Energy in 2017, developers seem to now be snatching up cheap land and experimenting with a different business model: smaller, dispersed solar farms.

“That was new to me, getting mailers and seeing ads in different publications,” said James Decker, a Stamford attorney who specializes in wind and solar leases. “It’s a shotgun type of approach. … They want to lock you down so you don’t go to another solar company.”

Innovative Solar Systems, a North Carolina firm, is one such company that has sent out mailers in West Texas. Richard Green, a co-founder of the company, declined the Observer’s request for an interview, citing the need to protect proprietary information.

“We have nothing to hide, but we don’t want to give away our business model,” he said.

But Decker said his clients have been offered from $125 to $900 per acre per year. The closer the land is to a substation or transmission lines, the better the offer. The geographic location, slope of the land and whether landowners own both mineral and surface rights also influence prices.
The land rush indicates that the solar power sector in Texas, though small, is growing and maturing.
For an absentee landowner or a farmer struggling to turn a profit because of low commodity prices, tens of thousands of dollars a year with no up-front cost can be an enticing prospect. But Decker warns that landowners shouldn’t jump to sign leases too quickly. Lease terms are often for 30 or 40 years, and once the solar panels are installed, the land cannot be used for farming the way it can be with oil and gas production or wind turbines. Landowners will also likely lose their agricultural tax exemptions and should negotiate beforehand with the solar company to decide whether it will chip in to pay the difference in taxes. In cases where mineral rights have been severed from surface rights, solar leasing could put landowners in conflict with the mineral owners.

“The law is pretty settled with oil and gas. We have 90 years of law,” Decker said. “We don’t have that with solar. It’s such a brand new area.”

This article was originally published by Texas Observer on October 4th, 2016 and written by Naveena Sadasivam. Click HERE to view the original.

Texas Oil & Gas Leasing Handbook Available

Friends of the firm, Tiffany Dowell Lashmet and Shannon Ferrell recently conducted a seminar in College Station, Texas, focusing on landowner issues regarding oil and gas production on agricultural lands. A fantastic handbook, for the landowner, is now published and available free online through Texas AgriLife Extension Services. SGDA attorney, James Decker, assisted in the development of the handbook. Click here to view/download the reference!

Visit Tiffany’s blog for more information on the seminar and a link for the free handbook download!

Guevara Decker Arrott Law Firm Welcomes Many Changes

Guevara Decker Arrott Law Firm Welcomes Many Changes
Gary Shahan of Abilene, Texas and Nicole Burns of Cedar Park, Texas join Shahan Guevara Decker Arrott Law Firm

Mike Guevara, James Decker, and Nick Arrott are pleased to announce the growth and expansion of their law firm with a new name, Shahan Guevara Decker Arrott, and by adding Gary H. Shahan as a Partner and Nicole Burns as Associate Attorney.

As Partner, Shahan’s addition to the firm brings a relationship with Centennial Title, LLC in Abilene, Texas.

“We are thrilled about the continued growth of our firm,” said SGDA president, James M. Decker. “Gary brings vast experience and wisdom to our firm’s real estate practice.”

Since 1978, Shahan has been practicing law in the Abilene, Texas area. His extensive background experience in real estate, title insurance, probate and general business law will be a valuable asset to the firm. He has owned Centennial Title in Abilene, Texas since 1990 and currently serves as president and escrow officer.

Nicole Burns
Also joining the SGDA firm is Nicole Burns. After serving in the United States Navy for five years, Burns received her juris doctorate degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, Texas. While in the Navy, Burns received honors including the Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and United States Coast Guard Special Operations Service Medal.

“Because of Nicole’s diverse background and experiences, particularly in prosecution and investigations,” said Decker, “SGDA will better serve our current and future clients through a wide variety of practice areas.”

Burns is currently based out of SGDA’s Cedar Park office. She aids SGDA’s attorneys in representing municipal, probate, real estate, and oil and gas clients. She comes to SGDA from the Office of Inspector General in the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and brings experience in criminal defense and prosecution.

Founded in 2011, Shahan Guevara Decker Arrott is a full-­‐service law firm with offices in Abilene, Cedar Park, Stamford, and Bronte. The firm provides legal services to individuals, businesses, and public entities in real estate, agriculture, oil and gas, estate/probate, and municipal matters. For more information visit www.sgdalawtx.com.

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Shahan Guevara Decker & Arrott Opens a New Satellite Office

Decker & Arrott P.C. Opens A New Satellite Office in Bronte, Texas

Decker & Arrott P.C. has opened a new satellite office in downtown Bronte, Texas, in a historic building known as the Cumbie Building. This office is located in the back of the Cumbie Building, which was originally bought in 1904 by attorney Nick Arrott’s great-great-grandfather, Reverend R.M. Cumbie (the first pastor ever of the First Baptist Church in Bronte), in order to open and operate a dry goods store in it. The Cumbie Building is built out of rock quarried from an old quarry located somwhere around nearby Tennyson, Texas. Also, Decker & Arrott P.C.’s office in the back of the Cumbie Building is the same “back office” used by Reverend Cumbie, his son R.E. Cumbie, R.E.’s son-in-law J.B. Mackey, and R.E.’s granddaughter (and Nick’s mom) Susan Cumbie Williams in their operation of the dry goods store from around 1904 until 1996, which includes four generations spanning 92 years.

Now, despite about a seventeen year hiatus, a fifth Cumbie generation (Nick) is back in the building doing business! Come visit Nick and see how he and his mother renovated the Cumbie Building, including the awesome store front where local Bronte entrepreneur, Tammy Boyce (who helped a lot with the renovation as well), has opened Bronte’s General Store, complete with antiques, a coffee “saloon style” bar, and skylight! Nick will be at Decker & Arrott P.C.’s satellite Bronte office every first and fourth Thursday of every month from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The Bronte office’s address is 119 West Main Street, Bronte, Texas 76993 (rear parking and entry).