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County says ‘no’ to wind farm support

A crowd of concerned individuals, some sporting anti-wind farm shirts, gathered in the Wharton County Commissioners Courtroom Monday to hear discussions on whether the county would be granting any tax relief or incentive to the developers of a wind farm project targeting West Wharton County. After discussion, county leaders voted unanimously not to proceed with any efforts in support of the project.
L-N Photo by Albert Villegas

The Wharton County Commissioners Court unanimously decided not to move forward with a 312 tax abatement application from Wharton Wind, LLC during its Monday session.

The 5-0 decision came in front of dozens of people who packed the meeting room inside the Wharton County Annex Building in Wharton.

County Judge Phillip Spenrath said, despite the decision, the county and elected officials can’t prevent a wind farm from being constructed on a landowner’s property.

“Please note that this wind project can still happen without the county’s participation and I completely respect each and every landowner’s right to lease their own land,” Spenrath said. “The commissioners court’s role today is not to determine whether or not this project gets considered. We’re not the gatekeepers to new industry and development.”

The only thing the court was deciding was whether or not to offer a tax incentive.

Some in attendance wore red shirts that displayed their displeasure for wind farms in some way as they sat quietly listening.

“Say no to inflicting harm on neighbors, destroying our open prairies, limiting our agriculture diversity, decreasing land value, shadow flicker, ambient noise levels, funding an industry that can’t support itself, 313 and 312 abatements, false promises,” the shirts read.

Arrangements had been made to hear every concern, the judge said, but once the court made its decision not to move forward with the application, some clapped with approval.

No one stepped up to address the court.

Spenrath and Precinct 2 Commissioner Chris King also asked to hear from anyone who “disagreed with the court’s position and wants the windfarm.”

Christa Kish, vice president of development with Seventus LLC stood.

“I respectfully request that the commissioners court consider our application because in this conversation today we are hearing a lot of misinformation about Chapter 313, school abatement, about wind farms, about production tax credit,” Kish said.

She added a presentation would include economics of the project and quality of life.

After Kish spoke, it wasn’t decided if the court would place the topic of wind farms in a future agenda.

Before the vote, each commissioner was granted the opportunity to speak on the matter.

“I treat tax abatement as a special item … number 1, has (the project) an honest and forthright approach to benefiting the citizens of Wharton County as well as increasing the tax base and adding employment,” King said. “None of these redeeming values seem to exist in this current project.”

Cricia Ryan, who represents TradeWind Ag. Service, based in El Campo, has been among the leaders of those opposed to the wind farms.

She released the following statement: “Our group wishes to express its great appreciation to the Wharton County Commissioners Court for exploring the pros and the cons of the proposed wind farm project and for patiently listing to the voices of the concerned citizens.

“We thank each of them for choosing to preserve our community’s assets and values,” the statement read. “We continue to encourage all to do their own research, share what you learn, and reach out to the El Campo school board with your thoughts. We hope the ECISD trustees will follow the example set. That they too, will explore the concerns many have and conclude that this project has the potential to jeopardize our community in numerous ways.

“When the application is returned in the upcoming months, we hope they will vote no to the requested 313 tax limitation request.”