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Proposed Petronila wind farm meets opposition

The Bishop Consolidated Independent School District held a public hearing Wednesday to receive feedback from Petronila residents on a proposed wind farm. The feedback they received was a resounding “No”.

The public hearing was held at Petronila Elementary School and was attended by nearly 100 residents.

Doug Colbeck, Vice President of Development with E-ON Climate and Renewables, of Austin, said his company has signed leases with 20 landowners in the Petronila area for the construction of between 83-100 wind turbines. Those turbines will provide between 150-180 megawatts, enough to power 50,000 homes for one year. The company is investing between $195,000,000 and $235,000,000 to fund the project, which would be operational by May 2013.

Colbeck estimated that during the construction phase the company will employee 300-400 workers, with a mandate to hold a job fair in the Petronila area to recruit local workers. Once the wind farm is complete, it will have an estimated six employees.

The company is seeking an abatement from the BCISD that would allow them to be taxed at a value of $30 million a year for eight of the first 10 years of the agreement, although the actual value of the project will be as much as $235,850,000 during that time. In return, the school district will receive a tax benefit of $114,701 per year for 12 years, beginning in the 2011-2012 school year. That benefit could only be applied to the district’s Interest and Sinking Fund, which includes payments for debt, which would lower that rate from $0.52 per $100 valuation to as low as $0.32 per $100 valuation, according to information presented during the public hearing.

Petronila residents expressed a number of concerns during the public hearing, ranging from safety of the wind turbines during hurricanes to noise pollution. Many residents also expressed concerns about the effect of the wind farm on property values and agriculture production.

Representatives from Naval Air Stations

Kingsville and Corpus Christi also spoke during the public hearing and voiced their opposition to the proposed wind farm, on the basis that it would disrupt the radar capabilities of both bases.

“No offense against Doug and the E-ON folks, no offense against the wind industry, but I have a mission to protect. And the mission is safety of aviation flight over your heads every day,” Capt. Mark McLaughlin, commanding officer of NAS Kingsville, told those in attendance. “These things are radar killers. There is no dispute in the wind industry, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Energy that wind turbines and air traffic control radars don’t coexist very well together.”

Kingsville Mayor Sam Fugate and Executive Director of the Greater Kingsville Economic Development Council Dick Messbarger also spoke against the project, on the grounds that it could lead to base closures.

Colbeck acknowledged McLaughlin’s concerns, although he indicated his company was willing to work to find a solution.

“Every project has a problem, my job… is to solve problems to get projects done,” Colbeck said. “Every single project that I’ve ever worked on had an issue this big to work on.”

Colbeck’s comments met with a negative reaction from the audience, with many questioning why his initial presentation had not included information on impact to area radar equipment.

Following the meeting, Dawn Cavanaugh, president of the BCISD Board of Trustees, said the board appreciated the community’s input.

“I’m glad that the community had the chance to come out and voice their opinions, because that’s something we don’t hear unless we have something like this,” Cavanaugh said. “Their concerns were our concerns.”

The board could vote on whether to zone the project for abatement as early as this month’s regular meeting, Superintendent Christina Gutierrez said, with a vote on whether to grant the abatement to be held at a later time. There are currently no plans for another public hearing.