A company has proposed doubling its number of wind turbines in an area north of Willacy County’s sprawling wind farms, County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. said Thursday.
Gonzales said E.ON Climate & Renewables has proposed construction of 112 to 116 wind turbines in an area north of FM 186 and east of Interstate 69.
E.ON, a Chicago-based company, launched a project in 2009 that built 112 wind turbines in a 10-mile area east of I-69 and north of FM 186 between Raymondville and Port Mansfield.
Gonzales said officials hired Austin-based attorney Kevin O’Hanlon at a rate of $175 an hour to negotiate an agreement in which the county could offer E.ON a 10-year tax break in exchange for annual payments in lieu of taxes. The county expects to pay O’Hanlon a total of $6,000 to $7,000 in legal fees, Gonzales said.
Gonzales said the county offered E.ON a 70-percent tax break for its first project in 2009 but did not negotiate an agreement in which the company would make payments in lieu of taxes.
“We left a lot of money on the table,” said Gonzales, who won election in 2010.
But Aurelio Guerra, who served as interim county judge in 2009, said his administration did not negotiate a tax break with E.ON because officials wanted the company to pay more in property taxes. Guerra, executive director of the Willacy County Public Housing Authority, is Gonzales’ opponent in the March election.
Duke Energy proposed a project in 2010 that built 171 wind turbines in an approximately 20,000-acre area east of Sebastian in Willacy and Cameron counties.
Willacy County offered Duke an 85-percent tax break in exchange for annual payments in lieu of taxes of $260,000, Gonzales said.
The two wind farms generated $591,000 in property tax revenue in 2013, the first year they yielded tax revenues, officials said.
Gonzales said the companies’ tax breaks expire in 2023.
“Both companies have added quite a bit to our county,” Gonzales said. “The county has been very flushed with ad valorem collection. We can strategize development and growth (and the companies) bring money to our landowners.”
Gonzales said the two companies have created about 15 jobs.
E.ON spokesman Elon Hasson declined to disclose the proposed project’s details.
“Today, we are investing in Willacy County’s farmers,” Hasson said in an email. “Tomorrow we hope to bring an additional $3.5 million dollars in local spending, create good new jobs and add millions of dollars in tax revenue.”
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