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Wind farm developer pays to build turbines

RAYMONDVILLE – A wind farm developer will pay Willacy County about $458,000 a year under a 10-year agreement tied to its second project, which will build 116 wind turbines.

The latest wind farm will be located north of FM 186 and east of Interstate 69E, officials said Tuesday.

County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. said commissioners on Monday gave E.ON Climate & Renewables an 85-percent tax break under the agreement. The developer will pay the county about $200,000 a year in lieu of taxes.

Under the agreement, E.ON also will pay the county $1,125 for each megawatt generated by the wind farm, or about $258,000 a year, Gonzales said. The wind farm would generate about 230 megawatts.

Commissioner Fred Serrato said he cast the lone dissenting vote because he wanted the developer to pay the county more money per megawatt.

“These wind mills are getting older every year and they’re going to produce less (money),” Serrato said.

The county’s two wind farms, which operate 263 wind turbines, depreciated about $24 million this year, Chief Appraiser Agustin Lopez said.

The county contracted Kevin O’Hanlon, an Austin attorney hired at a rate of $175 an hour, to help the county negotiate the agreement, Gonzales has said.

In May, Gonzales said commissioners turned down E.ON’s proposal to waive payments in lieu of taxes that would pay the county $2,000 per megawatt, or $460,000 a year, over a 10-year period.

Gonzales said E.ON’s second project will begin to generate tax revenue in 2015.

In 2009, E.ON built 112 wind turbines in a 10-mile area east of I-69E and north of FM 186 between Raymondville and Port Mansfield. The county offered E.ON a 70-percent tax break but did not negotiate an in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, Gonzales, who did not hold office at the time, said in an earlier interview.

In 2010, Duke Energy built 151 wind turbines in a 20,000-acre area east of Sebastian. The county offered Duke an 85-percent tax break in exchange for annual payments in lieu of taxes of $260,000, Gonzales said.