Brown County debating wind farm proposal
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A contingent of landowners voiced opposition to the proposed Roadrunner Windfarm project during the Brown County Commissioners Court meeting Monday.
Proposed abatement agreements for the wind farm project were up for approval Monday, but Commissioners tabled the item so they could determine exactly how much tax revenue the project could mean for Brown County.
“We have to look at this from all sides,” said Brown County Judge Ray West. “Whether we have input from six or eight landowners or not, we have to consider the other 35,000 taxpayers (in Brown County) – especially if it means tax dollars for the county.”
The Roadrunner Windfarm is a $450 million project proposed in Comanche, Brown and Mills counties. Construction on the 150-turbine project, proposed by Renewable Energy Systems, Americas, Inc., could begin as early as 2009.
Several Brown County landowners are opposed to the project.
“Recreational hunting and fishing is one of the biggest uses of land in Brown County,” said business owner Robert Porter. “Plus, we have heard that the wind towers depreciate the property values.”
Real estate developer Bob Garrett called the project a “disaster for property values and the scenic views in Brown County – forever.”
“We would like to see the commissioners rescind the creation of the reinvestment zone that allowed the school districts to approve the agreements with the wind energy company,” Garrett said.
Rancher Brad Locker called it “ridiculous” for the county to offer tax incentives for a project that could depress property values.
“Plus, it won’t create any jobs to speak of,” Locker said.
Wes Jackson, of Cummings Westlake, LLC of Houston, the tax consultant for RES, was surprised by the level of opposition at the meeting.
“If we had known that the opposition was there we could have brought in some additional people to address their questions,” Jackson said. “But these residents of Brown County should have come to express their concerns to the commissioners; that is their right.”
Commissioners will make a decision one way or the other within the next two weeks.
The terms of the abatement have changed slightly, Jackson said. Under the revised abatement, RES would receive a 100 percent abatement during construction and during the first year. The abatement decreases by 10 percent each year until the seventh year, after which it ceases.
“This is in line with what the county approved for 3M,” Jackson said. Last month, Brown County commissioners created a reinvestment zone, which is necessary before abatement agreements can be approved by any of the taxing entities.
All five of the school districts affected by the project have approved agreements with RES, including Blanket, Comanche, Mullin, Priddy and Zephyr. Comanche County approved an abatement agreement, and one has been proposed in Mills County.
“This could double our tax base,” said Gary Bufe, principal at Zephyr ISD. “It won’t be a major boost, but every little bit helps when you are as poor of a school district as we are.”
RES is interested in the three counties, not so much for superior wind power but for the transmission lines that are already located in the mostly-rural areas.
Once the wind farm is up and running, power will be sold to providers such as TXU.
Only 10-20 turbines are slated to be located in Brown County, with the rest built in Comanche and Mills counties.
RES has three wind farms operating in Texas, including two in Sweetwater, with a total of 105 turbines. Several projects are currently under construction, including the Lone Star Windfarm in Shackelford County, which will have 200 turbines and provide power to as many as 63,000 homes.
The Sweetwater Phase V wind farm project, which includes 35 turbines, is also under construction.
The Big Country plays a key role in the state’s wind energy production, generating more than 2,000 megawatts of power a year – enough to power more than half a million homes.
The Brown County landowners are not the first residents in the Big Country who have opposed wind energy projects. A group of concerned citizens in Eastland and Erath counties is leading the opposition to wind energy.
The Cross Timbers Landowners Conservancy is urging Erath and Eastland county residents through a Web site, U.S. Interstate 20 billboard, and advertisements to fight the construction of transmission lines and more wind turbines.
The landowners group’s Web site – www.StopWindTurbines.com – cites several reasons for their opposition to wind energy projects, including concerns over lower property values, higher electricity costs, lack of state regulation and the possible use of eminent domain to secure land easements for transmission lines.
Last year, the 42nd District Court jury declined to find FPL Energy, owner of the Horse Hollow project in Taylor and Nolan counties, liable for creating a nuisance for 11 neighboring properties.
The Horse Hollow wind farm is the world’s largest at 735 megawatts. The plaintiffs in the suit against FPL Energy, an affiliate of Florida Power & Light, claimed their land was marred by the installation of wind turbines nearby.
Noise created by the wind turbines was the crucial issue in the lawsuit.
By Celinda Emison
7 January 2008
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