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150 Willacy wind turbines planned

RAYMONDVILLE – Residents may soon see construction of as many as 150 wind turbines east of Sebastian.

A deal has been signed with Duke Energy to build a wind farm in Willacy County, with long-range plans for as many as 250 of the huge structures, interim County Judge Aurelio “Keter” Guerra said this past week.

Duke Energy spokesman Gregory Efthimiou said that, after the first two phases of wind generator development in Willacy County are complete, a third phase could be developed in Cameron County. Guerra said the northern area of Willacy County is also being considered for that expansion.

“The wind farm’s initial phase would comprise 250 megawatts of renewable energy capacity, with the potential to expand to 400 megawatts,” Efthimiou said.

“We believe the wind resources in the area could support a 1,000 megawatt project, so it’s conceivable that the biggest wind farm in Texas could be right here in Willacy and Cameron counties,” he said.

Guerra said the project’s first phase is 150 turbines installed along Farm-to-Market Road 1018.

Farmers will be able to resume raising crops or grazing livestock in the areas where the towers are built after construction is complete, Guerra said.

Duke must first line up contracts to sell the electricity on a long-term basis before it builds the wind generators, Efthimiou said.

The project in Willacy County will be called the Las Palmas Windpower Project, Efthimiou said.
The deal was signed late Wednesday and filed Thursday, Guerra said.

Duke will get an average 75 percent tax abatement on a system of 50 percent the first year, 35 percent the second year, 25 percent the third year, 20 percent the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth years and 10 percent the ninth and tenth years, Guerra said.

The first year, the county will get a payment of $275,000 in addition to property taxes, Guerra said.

He said the county’s income will be based on the amount of generators that are completed. The county will receive property tax income from equipment and facilities Duke builds and will also receive a fee every other year based on $1,000 for each megawatt of generating capacity, Guerra said.

County officials already have plans for the first-year payment, he said. Of the $275,000, officials plan to use $10,000 to give youth program scholarships for PONY League and Little League, Guerra said. Also, $15,000 will be used to start a Boys & Girls Club, he said.

Commissioners will use $50,000 for the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement – VIDA – program, Guerra said.

Also, $200,000 will be used to start a Willacy County Economic Development Corp. program, Guerra said.

“Today’s agreement represents a major milestone in the efforts of Duke Energy and Willacy County to bring clean, renewable wind energy and economic activity to the region,” Efthimiou said.

The tax abatement agreement with Willacy County will allow the project to get started now, he said.

“In the end, this compromise enables Duke Energy to move forward with the development of its proposed 400-megawatt Las Palmas Windpower Project and boost the amount of financial support the community will receive,” he said.

“Willacy County leaders should be commended for both their desire to bring renewable energy, economic activity and jobs to the area, and their diligence in securing a deal that’s attractive for all parties involved,” Efthimiou said.

All the generators’ capacity will be sold to a utility company and there would not be any left over to provide power to local customers as part of a deal with Willacy County, Efthimiou said.

But local businesses will benefit, especially during the construction phase, such as hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, parts suppliers and auto repair shops, Guerra said.

Power produced by the wind generators would be sold to customers somewhere within Texas, he said. Duke would seek the closest customers it can find to Willacy County, he said.

Guerra said another wind generation company, E. ON Climate & Renewables, had earlier negotiated a 70 percent tax abatement with the county, but commissioners had instead authorized him to negotiate with Duke Energy.

However, a deal might later be made with that company also, Guerra said.