Sunnyside solar farm update

I’m really rooting for this.

As Efrem Jernigan surveyed the young men attending a solar installation training session on his plot in Sunnyside, he spoke about his dreams for the land nearby.

The 240-acre former city dump across Reed Road did not look like much. Stunted trees covered the property and tires littered the edges.

Someday soon, however, private developers hope to build the largest urban solar farm in the United States on top of land that has long stood as a monument to environmental racism. Jernigan wants to make sure locals wear the hardhats.

“I’m the guy from Sunnyside that wrote a proposal to put this community to work,” he said. “So, if you came to my training and didn’t get a job, I’m going to be pissed off.”

Twenty months after Mayor Sylvester Turner held a press conference celebrating state approval of the massive solar farm, construction has not yet begun. The city’s top development official says he expects a groundbreaking within months.

In the meantime, community leaders and the city hope to resolve a lingering challenge: making sure local residents reap the benefits of the solar farm, along with private investors. The city has yet to finalize a community benefits agreement along the lines of the pact tied to the Ion District in Midtown.

Sunnyside was promised jobs, an agricultural hub and clean power at a discounted rate. The question is how to get there.


City Council approved an updated lease this summer. In that agreement, the developer agreed to hire 10 percent of its workforce from training programs like the one hosted by the South Union Community Development Corporation, of which Jernigan serves as board president. At least half of those employees must live in south and southeast Houston ZIP codes.

A former petrochemical worker, Jernigan said he became interested in offering training in Sunnyside because he rarely saw other Black people in the energy industry.

On a recent Friday morning, Charlie Smith was learning the ropes – literally. An instructor from the nonprofit Green Careers Texas taught him and seven other students how to strap on a safety harness and use it to clip into ropes at job sites.

Smith, a 17-year-old homeschooled student, said he is interested in finding a job in the solar industry like the ones that may sprout up across the street soon. He hopes locals will get some of the jobs.

“It’s very important. Because it’s our community, after all,” Smith said.

Once the solar farm is operational, the developers are required to produce an annual report every year showing whether they have fulfilled their employment promises. Jernigan said he has his own scorecard.

“About 95 people have been trained to work here. If 95 people are working here a year from now, we’ll call that a success,” he said.

See here for the background and go read the rest. There are still a lot of details to be worked out and it’s not clear to me from the story what a reasonable expectation for a timeline is. But it’s moving along, and as I said above I’m rooting for it. I hope to see a good progress report sometime later in the year.

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One Response to Sunnyside solar farm update

  1. David Fagan says:

    It’ll be sold to a foriegn company and that’ll be the end of that. It’s not eminent domain like the train to Dallas, just the ol switcharoo, eminent domain’s close cousin.

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