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The answer is blowing in wind

BEEVILLE – Despite opposition, county leaders took the first step to offering a tax abatement to a wind farm proposed near the San Patricio and Bee county lines.

Jimmy Jackson, well known birder and photographer, had hoped to dissuade county leaders from creating a reinvestment zone for a tax abatement to Avangrid Renewables.

“This granting of an order creating a reinvestment zone does not force us to enter into a tax abatement agreement.”

The court ultimately approved the zone with the lone dissenting vote by Commissioner Dennis DeWitt.

Jackson spoke earlier in the meeting against the abatement, likely hoping to stop even the zone from being designated.

“Tax abatements are historically given to very large companies that come into small communities like this giving thousands of jobs,” he said.

Wind farms don’t generate many local jobs.

Specialized crews, he said, build the massive towers and assemble the blades.

“You don’t have any local people to speak of in the construction process,” Jackson said.

Only a handful of employees are needed on site to maintain the equipment.

According to information given to the state comptroller by the vice president of the company, and presented during the meeting by DeWitt, the farm would have a staff of four employees.

“So four people will be shared between two counties?” DeWitt asked.

Jason Du Terroil, Avangrid business development director, responded, “We expect 13 people operational throughout the whole time.”

He acknowledged the discrepancy saying the paperwork presented was conservative on its figures.

Du Terroil said that this project will mean millions in taxes coming into the county though.

He estimated that over a 20-year period, the county would receive an estimated $3.5 million in taxes if they receive the abatement. All taxing entities combined over this time would receive $25 million.

“A lot of people don’t believe in tax abatement anywhere,” Jackson said. “If you give somebody a tax abatement you are taking it out of somebody else’s pocket.”

He also reminded that the county just recently sold $25 million certificates of obligation to build a jail.

This money will have to be paid back by taxpayers.

“Now we are going to ask the taxpayers and homeowners to pay even more tax out of their pocket with this deferral,” Jackson said.

There is the debate also as to the significance for the company of the local tax abatement.

In May, Du Terroil was in San Patricio County talking to county commissioners there about the same tax abatements.

The county leaders there approved designating the area a reinvestment zone which would allow them to request similar tax abatements.

“They are probably going to come whether we give them an abatement or not,” Jackson said.

“They want to build these things because they get massive subsidies from the federal government both during construction and in the from of tax credit after they start getting their income stream,” he said.

It’s about money, and that might mean that Avangrid ultimately sells the farm to another company once it is built.

“The people you are dealing with are very likely not going to be the continuing operators,” Jackson said.

Money gained by Avangrid wasn’t the only cash flow Jackson mentioned during his short speech to commissioners.

“Whatever they have given to people around here – such as the $6,000 to (Bee Development Authority) to help hire a consultant for economic development. Do you think they have any interest in that?” he asked rhetorically. “They are just spreading the money around trying to build good will.

“These are the kind of things that happen in Washington.

“They come in and spread money around and get special favors.

“I don’t think Beeville ought to be in that situation.”

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners looked over the map of the proposed farm which seemed to spread across the San Patricio County line into Tynan.

“My recommendation is we accept these reinvestment zones…” said Commissioner Ken Haggard, into whose precinct this falls.

Construction of the 286 megawatt wind farm is planned for fall of next year.

“At the height of construction we will have about 300 people on sight,” Du Terroil said. “We conducted biological and avian studies, and there has been no endangered species documented at this sight – specifically we were concerned about the whopping crane.”

Du Terroil acknowledged the dangers of wind farms to birds.

“Wind turbines will kill birds,” he said. “The real issue is how mitigate that.

“So we try to put those in habitats that are less sensitive than other habitants.

“We are concerned about the environment. That is why we build wind farms.

“We think they are more ecologically sound than other power generation.

“We think wind is good for a lot of reasons.”

He added that they have done studies, and this area was approved by the state and federal wildlife officials.

Bird death was a concern for Jackson, as he has a lot of affection for these animals.

“They fly at night in a migration through here,” Jackson said. “Everything comes in through the Coastal Bend.

“If the weather gets skunky, they fly right into the wind farms.”

Evidence of their demise is also not always left on the ground.

“Rats and things learn what is going to happen, and they are out picking up birds,” Jackson said. “The birds aren’t of much interest to a lot of people, but they are of interest to me.”