Boone Pickens wants some help building his wind farm, and he’s asking taxpayers to provide it.
The Gray County Commissioners Court approved a reinvestment zone Friday to cover the northern one third of the county.
“It’s not just for Mesa Power,” said County Judge Richard Peet.
But Mesa has asked four other counties to do the same thing. The company has also asked for tax abatements for the sizeable wind farm it wants to build.
At 4,000 megawatts, it would be the world’s largest. That would be five times the size of Horse Hollow, a 735-megawatt installation near Abilene that currently is the largest.
Horse Hollow covers almost 60,000 acres and has 421 turbines, according to owner FPL Energy’s Web site.
Gray County commissioners also voted Friday to establish criteria for tax abatements that are the same as the criteria set for a reinvestment zone in the southern part of the county.
“We haven’t set any kind of abatements yet, and they would not be restricted to wind energy or Mesa,” Peet said.
State law allows counties to establish reinvestment zones to aid economic development through tax abatements. The zones must be renewed every five years.
Hemphill County Judge Steven Vandiver plans to hold a public hearing Dec. 10 on establishing a zone, but he has also asked for an attorney general’s opinion on whether he and commissioners who own land in the proposed zone can vote on it.
“My recommendation will be to table the issue pending the opinion from the attorney general,” he said.
A delay might not be what Mesa wants.
“It was presented as something that has to be done in a rush,” Vandiver said. “T. Boone Pickens is well funded. Why does he need a tax abatement to work in this county? It just makes sense to wait to get an enlightened opinion.”
Mesa sees the process as good business and widely accepted.
“The project we envision will ultimately have a profound economic impact on the Texas Panhandle, and will invariably provide major new funding for a variety of taxing authorities there,” said Jay Rosser, Mesa spokesman.
“Most wind projects constructed in Texas have received tax abatements. It’s a common practice to foster this important new energy resource and spur the economic development it brings. Tax abatements have become the norm nationally to enhance such opportunities and we are certainly pursuing them, all in due course, and we are pleased at the dialogue that has been established with many of these taxing entities.”
Another issue Vandiver is considering is that Mesa Water, a sister company to Mesa Power, has leased about 200,000 acres in the same areas the power company wants to do business in.
If family members of commissioners have dealings with Mesa Water, does that present conflicts of interest when considering Mesa Power requests?
Wheeler County commissioners will also take up reinvestment zone and tax abatement requests – eventually.
“We’ve been approached,” said County Judge Jerry Hefley. “We just haven’t gotten around to taking any action on it.”
Hefley isn’t entirely optimistic about the outcome.
“We’ve been approached on abatements before, and we haven’t been real receptive,” he said.
Roberts County Judge Vernon Cook is looking to discuss tax abatements soon after commissioners established a reinvestment zone in the county in October.
“We have not discussed actual, hands-on abatements,” he said. “We haven’t had any offers on terms. What I’d like to do is get a stair-stepped abatement so they get to paying 100 percent before the oil and gas bubble bursts.”
Carson County commissioners will discuss a similar request from Mesa on Dec. 10.
“We’ll consider it and have a public hearing,” said County Judge Lewis Powers.
There are already three other reinvestment zones in the county meant to aid wind developers.
By Kevin Welch
1 December 2007
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