Pioneer Green Energy, LLC, an Austin-based renewable energy company, has proposed the construction of a wind farm in the western and southwestern portions of Comanche County. As expected, there is both positive and negative response to the idea.
If completed, it will be the second largest Central Texas wind farm, following the 86 turbines in Mills County that went online at the first of the year.
Local response varies, according to perspective. Taxing entities and property owners who benefit directly from the property leases are generally in favor of wind farms, whereas those indirectly affected by the negative aspects of the farms oppose them.
A local group of property and business owners has revived their coalition, established about nine years ago, to thwart the construction of a wind farm in Brown County. The working name for the group is “Won’t Feel Like Home Anymore.”
The group’s board has named Jeff Tucker, a May resident, as the point-of-contact and spokesperson and he honored a request for an interview.
“Let me first start off by saying, as a collective group of citizens and land owners in Brown County, we’re for private land rights and we’re for green energy” Tucker said, “But, we have some very serious concerns and issues with this Logan’s Gap Wind Farm that’s going to be affecting Comanche County, specifically,” he added.
Tucker expressed his suspicion that, because wind energy companies tend to complete the farms in phases and Pioneer Green Energy’s Comanche County project is named Logan’s Gap Wind Farm I, plans for additional phases may extend into Brown County.
In fact, the map of the immediately proposed project does cross into Brown County, albeit in relatively small acreages, at two separate locations – one a few miles southeast of US 377, near Brown County roads 322 and 323, and another just to the southeast of Turkey Peak Mountain, near BCR 302.
The map was found in studies commissioned by both the Comanche and Blanket ISD school boards, which projects 100 wind turbines distributed across the Comanche, Blanket, and Mullin school districts, at 81, 15, and 4, respectively.
Tucker stated his research has shown the number of turbines to reach 188 in those areas.
A few common factors typically affect site selection for the wind farms and are assumed to have come into play here; wind pattern studies are conducted to determine feasibility, existing transmission lines must be located nearby to allow for connection to the electric grid, and the support and/or opposition of area residents.
Greg Buis, vice president of Pioneer Green Energy LLC, responded that there are no current plans for expanding the wind farm into Brown County. He also said the specific number of turbines in Logan’s Gap I is undetermined, at this time, because the model of turbine has not been selected.
“The design is not yet final, but it will be between 125 and 200MW,” Buis said, “This equates to roughly 100 turbines.”
Tucker’s first concern is that residents and property owners are not being provided enough information to make educated decisions on their positions. He said the Logan’s Gap project has been under way for about two years, “with great stealth.”
He said his group had recently mailed survey letters to some property owners within the vicinity of the proposed wind farm and they have already received responses indicating they were unaware.
“Our meetings over the last month have just been discussing our strategies in developing our campaign,” Tucker said, “to make the public aware of what’s going on and our neighbors in Comanche aware of what’s going on.”
“The thing I’ve been shocked by the most,” he added, “is just really the lack of individuals who know what’s actually going on in their own backyard.”
Tucker said their research indicates there are only six to eight family landowners who will actually enter into lease contracts with Pioneer Green Energy, which involves a significant amount of land in Comanche County.
“But it’s going to negatively impact anyone who is adjacent to these parcels of land,” Tucker said, “and it’s an automatic 30 percent reduction in those property values.”
“We’re talking about a very obtrusive piece of equipment,” he said, “and it’s going to be noisy, and it’s going to be unattractive, and it’s going to devalue their land. The way I see it, that means it devalues tax revenues, too.”
Buis counters that sometimes property owners with turbines experience an increase in value, because of the additional source of revenue. While the individual lease agreements are confidential, Buis did provide estimates of the potential revenues, based on the output of a single turbine, which vary from 1.5 to 3.5 megawatts.
“In Texas, most landowners can expect to earn at least $3,500 per megawatt of capacity per year,” he said. “Applying that to the turbines, landowners expect to earn at least $5,250 to $10,500 per turbine each year.”
A source Buis provided indicates property owner revenue is approximately 2-4 percent of the gross revenue generated by the turbine.
Other issues the opposition group addresses are the damage to the landscape, the environmental impacts, which Tucker said is not fully studied or regulated by the state, and threats to wildlife and endangered species.
Tucker’s opinion is, from reading lease agreements common to these projects, the landowner relinquishes significant rights to land and privacy, for a “very small pittance” and he fears landowners don’t fully understand or investigate the contracts. He said the leases he has read often include subsurface rights, in addition to surface and air space.
Although Tucker has identified only six to eight property owning families who will hold leases, the CISD and BISD studies indicate about 80 separately described properties, with 18 separate lease application identification numbers. Searches of the Comanche County Appraisal District records do reflect 18 unique owners, of the 80 properties.
Comanche ISD Superintendent Rick Howard said the construction of the wind farm will not affect the district’s tax base on the maintenance and operating side, because any increases in those revenues will result in off-setting reduction in state funding. He expects, however, it will significantly and positively affect the interest and sinking side, by “almost doubling the tax base.”
Kevy Allred, superintendent of Blanket ISD, said he understands the maximum number of turbines within the school district is nine, so their I & S revenues will not see the increases of their neighbor, but he expects some decrease in the property tax rates once the turbine field is fully operational.
As is typically done in these situations, the taxing entities of CISD and BISD have agreed to abate Pioneer’s taxes for a fixed and temporary period. In exchange, Pioneer has agreed to pay the districts a fixed sum, based on their respective average daily attendance.
Comanche ISD will receive $30 per student, per year for 10 years, which translates to approximately $37,000 each year or $370,000 over the course of the agreement, based on current ADA.
Blanket ISD will receive $100 per student, for what Allred believed was 14 years, amounting to about $22,000 each year or around $308,000 over the course of the agreement.
The economic impact of related job creation is minimal, with only one new permanent job expected within the Blanket school district and four in Comanche’s, once the initial construction is complete, according to the school district reports.
According to Buis, the construction project will last from eight to 12 months and will involve between 200 and 300 workers.
“This kind of undertaking involves substantial local spending for things like food, fuel, and housing,” Buis said. “We estimate the direct and induced spending for this project at $70 million, during the construction phase.”
“This project will provide clean, renewable electricity for 60,000 American households,” he added, “without any water use.”
While the one side of the issue suggests a reduction in the value of properties, which would naturally result in a reduction in tax revenues, the other offers data on potential increases in value and revenue to the taxing entities.
The wind farms are a relatively new technology with limited historical studies on long-term economic or environmental impacts and much of the data presented, from both perspectives, is anecdotal. Certainly, the affects on property values are relative to other factors, as well, such as locale and land use options.
Of course, as related only to tax revenues, one must also take into account the already reduced tax revenues on the affected properties, because of agricultural exemptions already taken in the rural areas where the wind farms are situated.
Certainly, more representative studies will come and they will be related to the Texas economy, since the state is currently home to six of the nation’s 10 largest wind farms, comprising over 7,700 turbines – the second highest of any state.
Tucker invited residents to visit the group’s website, www.wontfeellikehome.com, or call him at (817) 944-5763.
Links to supporting information provided by Won’t Feel Like Home Anymore:
Links provided by Pioneer Green Energy, LLC