Howard County commissioners approved a trio of reinvestment zones necessary to grant tax abatements Monday morning, moving forward with negotiations with several wind energy developers that could lead to an estimated 400 to 500 new turbines being erected in the county.
Commissioners met with Terry Wegman, executive director for Moore Development, who is serving as a liaison between the wind energy developers and local taxing entities for the purpose of establishing reinvestment zones, and ultimately, negotiating tax abatements for several proposed projects.
The court approved reinvestment zones A, B and C, following a public hearing that drew comments from only a single property owner.
“I have a section of land in this zone that has not been leased by any of the wind energy companies,” said Bobby Cathey. “I’m not sure how you can abate taxes on that property if it hasn’t been leased. Also, taxes on the property in this zone are going to go up, so am I going to be looking at higher taxes even if nothing’s built on that section?”
According to County Judge Mark Barr, Cathey and other land owners with property within the three reinvestment zones shouldn’t see any increases in taxes due to the projects unless turbines or other facilities are actually constructed on their property.
“The higher taxes are a result of what’s being built on the land,” said Barr. “It’s not a situation where you’re going to have higher taxes just because the property is within the zone. It’s all based on what’s on the property, not where it is.”
Zone A of the project – which will fall in the Forsan, Big Spring and possibly Glasscock independent school districts – is expected to include the likes of Duke Energy, which is planning a 59 megawatt project with construction possibly to begin in 2008; Airtricity Energy, which plans a 36 megawatt project in Howard County and a 75 megawatt project in Glasscock, to be completed in 2008; and Padoma Energy, which is planning an undetermined megawatt project.
Zone B – which falls in the Coahoma Independent School District – is expected to see civil construction, including roadways and other minimal improvements, begin as soon as the first of 2008, with commercial construction expected to begin Dec. 31, 2008.
Zone C – which falls mainly within the Big Spring Independent School District – could see a project between 120-170 megawatts, with the first phase in by the end of 2008, and a total of 250 megawatts when the project is completed, according to Heather Otten, one of several representatives of the wind energy developers present during the meeting.
Wegman said the court’s approval of the three zones will help move the project into the next phase.
“We’ll be meeting with the developers and our tax abatement advisory committee, which is an ad hoc committee that meets to look at the different types of abatement structures that are out there,” said Wegman. “We want to start narrowing that down so we can come back to the commissioner’s court and the college with specific abatement proposals. Then, of course, it’s up to them. We’re just there in an advisory role. They will make the final decision on whether to accept the proposals or not. But that’s the next step, and I hope to begin meeting in the next week or two to begin developing those to take back to the different taxing entities.”
What the projects will mean for the county’s tax roll is still unclear, according to Wegman.
“It’s hard to put a number on it,” said Wegman. “Some of the projects are 120 megawatts, some are 40 megawatts – some of them are even 180 megawatts – but, just as a rule of thumb, you can figure close to $1 million (of taxable value) per megawatt.
“I don’t really have a number when it comes to the turbines,” he added. “Some of these guys are going to put up big ones and some are going to put up smaller ones. A 100 megawatt project could be 50 of the 2-megawatt turbines or 100 of the 1-megawatt turbines. It all depends on what size turbines they decide to use. Most of the developers are leaning toward the bigger ones, so we’ll be generating more electricity with fewer towers, basically.
“Even the smaller developments – the smallest one is 36 megawatts – will be putting up quite a few turbines. I think we’re looking at between 400 and 500 turbines at this point, but that’s nothing more than a rough estimate.”
Barr said the projects could spell considerable tax relief for the county over the next several years, but at this point in the proceedings, it’s all just speculation.
“Our tax revenue could certainly go up,” said Barr. “I’m not sure at this point exactly how much it could go up, but we could see it go up by $1 million. Maybe a little more than that.
“I definitely feel like this is a positive step for us. I know land owners that will benefit from it, so will the county and the school districts. The school districts are the ones that will really benefit from this. Howard College will also benefit from these projects.”
By Thomas Jenkins
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