Hale County commissioners on Monday were finally able to discuss granting tax abatements to Hale Community Energy, whose wind energy project is considered to be the largest community-sponsored utility-scale wind energy project in the world.
“We want to make sure that we reach the best possible deal that will benefit both parties,” said Hale County Judge Bill Coleman, after he and commissioners exited a 30-minute executive session to discuss the abatement Monday during their regular session.
On Friday, during the commissioners’ work session, managers of Hale Community told the court that the wind project has submitted an application for tax abatement, while also giving an update on the project’s current status.
On Monday, the court went into executive session to consider the request for a 10-year abatement.
No formal action was taken Monday, but commissioners are likely to vote on the measure during the court’s next regular session.
Abatements allow companies the opportunity to forgo paying taxes for a period of time. Instead, they are expected to use the money saved to help fund the development process of the project. The most recent tax abatement was awarded for the construction of the Xcel Energy/Golden Spread TUCO station in Abernathy.
Tax abatements can come in many forms, including holding off on taxes collected by the amount of energy produced by the company.
Recently, Hale Community signed an interconnection agreement with Xcel Energy for 470 megawatts for the TUCO station. The HCEP has already received a tax abatement from Petersburg ISD.
The large-scale wind project is located in the southern half of Hale County, generally south and east of Plainview, and is comprised of 122,312 leased acres of privately owned farm and ranch land involving 349 landowners. Many of those landowners and area community members have invested more than $5 million in development capital toward the project.
The project is a combination of four wind projects: Cottonwood Farms, LLC; Lakeview Wind Farm, LLC; Hale County Wind Farm LLC and East Mound Renewable Energy Project LLC. Teaming up with wind energy veterans Tri-Global, the four farms merged into a joint development company.
When Hale Community Energy is fully constructed, the project will have a combined installed capacity of 1,100 megawatts, capable of supplying clean energy to 220,000 to 330,000 Texas households.
According to Hale Community Energy, each phase will also create $1.4 million to $1.8 million in land lease royalties for its landowners as well as close to $400,000 in royalties for its community members.
Taxes collected from the wind farms will eventually benefit both the county and local school districts since $365 million will be added to county tax rolls once the project is completed.
Also during Monday’s commissioners’ court session, residents of the rural Finney-Liberty communities expressed their concern over the proposed closing of a railroad crossing on the east access road of I-27 near their homes.
During Friday’s work session, Precinct 1 Commissioner Harold King said he was approached by railroad company BSNF and the Texas Department of Transportation about closing a crossing just south of Finny, near Way Road. Both entities suggested that the angle on which the crossing is laid poses a risk to motorists.
Residents of about 10 houses in the area routinely use the crossing. Another crossing, which is equipped with lights and railroad crossing barriers, is located about a quarter-mile north from the first crossing. However, on Monday many of those residents voiced their opposition to closing the crossing.
“It’s going to be an inconvenience to say the least,” said Coy Goen, who has lived in the area for decades.
Goen said the crossing arms at the other crossing often stay down for 30-40 minutes, even when no train is in sight. Goen said that trains also stop in that area, blocking the crossing for up to 45 minutes.
In the winter, Goen said, snow drifts rise too high making it difficult to go over what would be the remaining grade crossing.
Another resident, Jimmy Tyler, said farm trailers have a difficult time making the sharp turn on the north crossing. Other residents said the south crossing is heavily used by farm traffic from FM 378.
King made a motion to leave the crossing as it is and Commissioner Mario Martinez seconded the motion. He noted that closing the crossing may make it difficult for emergency crews to reach residents in the area. The commissioners unanimously voted to leave both crossings in place.
Also on the subject of rail crossing, Rudd Owen, representing Panhandle Compress, reported that BSNF and TxDOT have said that the railroad crossing used to get on the company’s South Business I-27 location may have to be closed since it was now deemed a safety hazard. Owen said other access points to get to the location are occasionally blocked due to street flooding. There also are city ordinances restricting semi-truck traffic on some of the alternate roadways.
Owen said the location in question often sees heavy traffic during harvest season, and closing the crossing would create a real nightmare.
However, the agreement for the crossing is a private agreement between Panhandle Compress, BSNF and TxDOT and the county has no authority over the matter. But, the county pledged it will help support keeping the crossing open.
The court unanimously voted to approve the 2015 budget calendar. Two public meetings/budget workshops will be held July 28-31 and Aug. 4-8. A public meeting to discuss tax rates is set for Aug. 11.
One of the items commissioners will explore in the budget talks will be renewing a membership with Texas Plains Trail. During their Friday work session, Plainview Chamber of Commerce Manager Linda Morris approached the court about renewing membership with the organization which promotes and advertises tourism to the area. The Plainview City Council has agreed to split the cost of the $2,000 membership. However, commissioners said the membership payment is not in the current budget and would have to be considered during the 2015 budget process. Nevertheless, the court seemed to support the membership, which has not been renewed in several years.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said King.
The court also said they would visit the possibility of joining the Plainview Chamber of Commerce, which Morris also presented to the court Friday. After investigation, County Attorney Jim Tirey said that according to the Texas attorney general, the county is not allowed to use public funds to join a chamber under Article 3 Section 52 of the Texas Constitution, which states a county cannot grant money to a corporation, association or company. Coleman requested that more information be collected on the matter.
Commissioners reviewed the monthly Petersburg EMS reports for April and May. The service was dispatched four times in April with four transfers. In May, the service was utilized 12 times.
Also on a unanimous decision, the court accepted Halfway Volunteer Fire Department’s Public Protection Classification results, and approved the hiring of AgriLife Secretary Audrey Drew and Precinct 3 employee Steve Roke.
In the sheriff’s report, David Mull tabled items on personnel and plumbing issues at the Hale County Corrections Center. Mull reported that the Sheriff’s Department had entered a new agreement for a $161 per month fee to continue the use of a dishwasher from Auto-Chlor at the jail and a $290.51 agreement for use of a copy machine from Holland Office Supply in Lubbock.
Commissioners denied a request from Kimmett Bellows for use of the county shower trailer. Bellows asked to use the shower trailer to accommodate a religious youth group visiting the area. Bellows was requesting to use the facility at his church.
Commissioners said that they cannot allow county property to be rented for private use.