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Austin-based Cielo to build $100 million wind farm west of Amarillo

Austin-based Cielo Wind Power has signed an agreement with Xcel Energy, a utility with operations in eight states, to build a $100 million-plus wind farm west of Amarillo.

Spinning Spur Wind Ranch will include about 110 wind turbines over 20,000 acres and is expected to generate enough electricity to power 54,000 households annually, according to a joint news release by both companies.

Xcel has agreed to buy power from the wind farm over 15 years.

“Our modeling shows this purchase is economically beneficial to our customers and it also decreases our reliance on traditional generating sources,” said Riley Hill, president and CEO of Southwestern Public Service Co. , an Xcel Energy company.

Walt Hornaday, Cielo’s president , said a combination of federal tax credits and property tax breaks offered by Oldham County and the Vega school district helped make the wind-generated electricity competitive with other power sources.

“Everyone made compromises to get the wind price competitive,” Hornaday said.

Tax subsidies for wind farms, as well as other economic development incentives, are expected to be an issue when the Texas Legislature tackles a $24 billion shortfall next month.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs published a report this month saying the state is overpaying for subsidies to wind farms.

Tax breaks awarded to 63 wind farms averaged almost $1.6 million per job, compared with $166,188 for manufacturing projects and $51,249 for research and development. Wind industry leaders criticized the report because it did not include indirect jobs created by the wind farms.

Hornaday noted that his newest wind farm is 45 miles from New Mexico and 60 miles from Oklahoma. He said Texas could lose future wind projects if it discontinues the incentives that prompted it to install more wind-generated power than any other state.

“If Texas thinks it has a corner on the wind, it doesn’t,” Hornaday said.

Spinning Spur will be Cielo’s 12th project in the past 11 years, Hornaday said.

Construction is scheduled to begin next summer. Hornaday estimated that 150 to 200 jobs would be created during the 14-month construction.

In Austin, Cielo employs 25 people with skills in engineering, computing and meteorology.

As a developer, Cielo picks potential wind farm sites, designs the layout, arranges leases with landowners and obtains financing.