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Starr County denies refund to Duke Energy

RIO GRANDE CITY – Duke Energy Renewables was hoping to receive a refund after confusion about how much they owed the county, but the commissioners flatly denied that request on Monday.

The commissioners denied the request for a $27,563 refund from the company that owns the wind farms in the area.

Duke Energy completed three wind farm projects in Starr County last year with a total of 426 turbines in the area, which came with a tax-abatement agreement of $295,000 for one of their projects.

Their refund request stemmed from an early-payment discount that the county offers. If the company had paid taxes to the county before the start of the year, which was when the abatement kicked in, they would have been entitled to the discount, according to Rose Benavidez, president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation.

County Judge Eloy Vera said Duke did not pay in October because there was a question as to how much was owed. The company, instead, paid in January but asked that the amount be credited to October.

“I think that is totally wrong,” Vera said during the meeting. “If they wanted that, they should have paid in October and then we would refund them if they were correct.”

Benavidez said the commissioners court didn’t feel there was need to give Duke a discount because if there was question about what amount was due, they had a good idea of what their tax bill was going to be.

Confusion about the details, Benavidez said, was due to the fact that since the abatement was approved in 2013, they’ve had two or three different developers, which lead to some confusion about what was part of the negotiations.

Benavidez said she met with the appraisal office and tax assessor Tuesday morning to ensure the amount being abated and billed to Duke was accurate.

“We’re in the process right now of retrieving all that information after meeting for a couple of hours yesterday to make certain we are, in fact, doing everything that we have to,” she said.

“Since this is the first year of the abatement, we obviously have nine more years left, so we have to make sure moving forward, there’s no question and no gray areas.”