In front of a standing-room only crowd, Hale County commissioners Monday unanimously approved a tax abatement package for the remaining three phases of the Hale Community Energy LLC, opening the way for the $800 million construction project.
“It’s been a long road to get here, but this is truly a great day for Hale County and all the residents in Hale County,” explained Precinct 4 Commissioner Benny Cantwell following a series of votes to set up the required reinvestment zones, and then to approve the corresponding tax abatements.
“It’s now in the Lord’s hands,” added Precinct 2 Commissioner Mario Martinez, as he recalled attending a meeting with Cantwell almost 10 years ago in Lubbock where the prospect of wind energy development in the region was first discussed. “At times it has been frustratingly slow, but we’re quickly moving in a positive direction now. We’re becoming the true pioneers of wind energy in our part of West Texas.”
Lanny Voss, representing Hale Community Energy LLC, explained, “It’s a great story that began six-plus years ago, and took a major leap forward when these four little sisters (wind power projects) merged to form the state’s largest community-owned wind energy project.”
Introducing the managers of the associated projects that make up Hale Community Energy – Cotton Wind Farm, LLC; Lakeview Wind Farm, LLC; Hale County Wind Farm, LLC and East Mound Renewable Energy Project – Voss said the project covers more than 122,000 contiguous acres, making it the largest such reinvestment zone in Texas.
“This will be a great benefit to our county and its residents for the next 40 years and more to come,” Voss said.
Monday’s tax abatement package mirrors the one approved by commissioners in November that covered phase one of the project. It’s a 100 percent tax abatement for the first 10 years of electrical production. Instead of taxes, the county during the first five years of operation will receive annual payments in lieu of taxes calculated at $1,000 per nameplate megawatt capacity. Those payments would increase to $1,250 per nameplate megawatt capacity during the second five years.
The abatements would begin as each phase of the wind project comes online, beginning Jan. 1 of the year immediately following the respective project’s startup.
According to information provided in November, Hale Community Energy will face potential payments of up to $300,000 annually during the first five years of the agreement if it reaches its full 300 megawatt production capacity. That could climb to $375,000 annually in years six through 10 if the same production target is reached.
Voss didn’t announce when construction will begin, but noted that the initial work will start in southern Hale County and move northward. Mike Price, a project manager for East Mound, added that the transmission line interconnects with ERCOT have not been connected, but transmission lines are now in place to carry locally-generated wind energy to the Southwestern Power Pool.
“What makes this project particularly lucrative and unique are that all the landowners who are participating in Hale Community Energy will receive royalty payments,” County Judge Bill Coleman said. “It’s not limited to just those who have turbines built on their property. Those payments should enable most of those families to keep their land in the family for many years to come. That likely would not have been the case otherwise.”
After explaining the royalty process, Price added that the project to this point has been financed by a $7.2 million investment from people in and around Hale County.
Shifting from wind to weeds and tires, commissioners heard a complaint from Seth Ward resident Diane Martinez concerning the growing mound of waste tires at Tyre King, 34th and Wood Avenue, and the resulting problems with tall weeds, mosquitoes and rodents.
She explained that businesses and individuals continue to dump tires at that location despite a state cease-and-desist order against its owner.
In response, Precinct 1 Commissioner Harold King reported that the county has moved one trailer filled with tires that was parked in the county right-of-way, and is making repairs to a second trailer and it should be moved later this week. Once it’s removed and tires in the right-of-way cleared, then the county can mow weeds in adjacent bar ditches and post signs prohibited further dumping at the site. However, since the lot containing about a million tires remains private property and involved in both civil and criminal proceeds, the county is powerless at this point to begin cleanup.
“Until this case works its way through the legal system, the property doesn’t belong to us and there’s not much we can do,” added Coleman. “It’s my opinion that the state is the one who’s dragging their feet.”
Martinez said the situation seems to be worsening as people continue to dump tires at the lot, despite being confronted by residents. She pointed out that fences surrounding the property are in danger of collapsing due to the weight of the tires.
“It took a long time for things to get this bad,” Coleman responded, “and it’s likely going to take a long time to correct. And until a fence actually falls down into county right-of-way, we are powerless to remove it.” He added that welcomed rainfall caused an explosion in the rodent population.
In other action Monday, commissioners:
–Approved current accounts payable, totaling $265,824.83 from the general account and $26,695.39 through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration grant. County Treasurer Ida Tyler reported that the closing balance on July 31 was $17,496,175.99.
–Accepted donations from Sheri Kunca, representing Sharyland Utilities, to the volunteer fire departments in Hale County.
–Approved requests by Delton Waggoner, representing the Studebaker Drivers Club, to use the courthouse grounds for the Second Annual Orphan Car Show on Saturday, Sept. 12, and by Main Street Director Melinda Brown to use the courthouse grounds on Saturday, Oct. 3, for a fall festival.
–Adopted the holiday schedule for 2016.
–Approved Petersburg’s request to advertise for bids on tax-forfeited property at 1703 Ave. H in Petersburg.
–Approved Abernathy’s request to assign that city the county’s interest in tax-forfeited property at 602 Ave. C in Abernathy. Abernathy plans to build a maintenance shop there for its Street and Parks Department.
–Authorized County Attorney Jim Tirey to begin the process to sale tax foreclosed property at 616 Highline Road in Hale Center.
–Approved the request by Special Projects Coordinator David Hipillito to purchase a 2016 Chevrolet pickup from Caldwell Chevrolet, through the State Buy Board, at a cost of $26,640 to replace his current county vehicle.
–Named Precinct 3 Commissioner Kenny Kernell and Precinct 4 Commissioner Benny Cantwell to seek proposals to repair storm-damaged roofs on county buildings.
–Approved the hiring of Jason Garcia by Precinct 4.
–Approved the hiring of four corrections officers at the Hale County Sheriff’s Office, Justin Summers, Audrey Arjona, Christopher Baer and Jan Perez.
–Authorized Sheriff David Mull to seek proposals to repair or replace locks and locking equipment at the jail.
–Approved the replacement of a 4-ton HVAC unit at the jail by Wilkins Heating and Air at a cost of $6,642.
–Approved a request from Doug Johnson with Golden Spread Electrical Cooperative to place a 10-inch waterline under CR 315 and 325 along CR P.
–Approved spending $5,608 for software to use with the e-signatures and e-notes computer programs from Tyler Technologies, and $3,742.60 to replace an inoperable security camera in the Justice Center parking lot.