A company is rushing to start a wind farm in Refugio County before a federal tax credit expires.
E.On Climate & Renewables said it will produce 220 megawatts of electricity there by Dec. 31, 2019, the date the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit is expected to expire, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT.
Two years ago, the Germany-based company leased about 18,000 acres of land about 7 miles south of Woodsboro and west of U.S. 77 for what it is calling the Blackjack Creek Wind Farm.
The lease is for 36 years, and the land belonged to the late Kathleen D. Roche and was placed in a trust in 1955.
E.On spokesman Matt Tullis declined an interview.
“We are still in the development stage in Refugio County and aren’t at a point to speak publicly about our project there,” he said.
But the company has spoken publicly about the project on at least two occasions.
First, on June 18, a spokesman for E.On gave a presentation to the Woodsboro school board, and then, July 24, that same spokesman gave the same presentation to the Refugio County Commissioners Court. On both occasions, he asked for tax breaks, according to agendas and minutes from the meetings.
That’s something Refugio County Judge Robert Blaschke is amenable to.
In the past five years, the county, which subsists on farming, ranching and the boom and bust of the oil and gas industry, has lost a third of its tax values and had to cut its budget by several million dollars.
“We had to cinch our belt up, you know, and just be as lean as possible,” he said.
Blaschke said E.On said it would invest $250 million in the county when it installs 100 wind turbines as well as provide between six and eight permanent high-paying jobs.
He, too, heard of the federal tax credit expiring.
“That’s why I’m expecting the (tax break) application at any time, because I think they are going to be on pretty much a fast track because they want to meet that December 2019 deadline,” he said.
The Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit was enacted in 1992 and has been extended many times, most recently by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The administration of President Donald Trump, who campaigned on reviving the coal industry, is not expected to try to get Congress to renew it. Congress last planned to phase it out.
It pays companies $23 for every megawatt-hour of renewable energy they produce in their first 10 years on top of what they are paid by consumers.
E.On is the 10th most subsidized utility and power generation company, according to Good Jobs First, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that promotes corporate and government accountability in economic development.
From 2000 to the present, the company received more than $789 million in subsidies.
Also, every month, ERCOT publishes a list of electricity projects being studied by the companies that want to do them and the transmission service providers, such as American Electric Power, they need cooperation from. In September, 329 electricity projects were being studied, and wind electricity projects made up the bulk of them.
Of the 160 wind electricity projects being studied, 105 listed their commercial operation date before Dec. 31, 2019.
“Just because they are under study doesn’t mean everything is going to get built,” ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said. “A developer can terminate a project at any time during the process if they choose to do so.”
She said electricity projects that have secured financing have a higher chance of being built, though.
E.On’s Blackjack Creek Wind Farm has all the required studies completed but does not have the financing secured, according to ERCOT.
In September, ERCOT commissioned four electricity projects, two wind and two solar, that will produce a combined 592 megawatts. A 210-megawatt wind electricity project called “Tree Bays Wind” in Calhoun County, meanwhile, was canceled along with 14 gas, solar and wind projects that would have produced a combined 3,829 megawatts.
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