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Concerns raised over proposed Pawnee wind farm

BEEVILLE – Wind farms may not be the financial windfall that some are expecting.

This was the warning that Commissioner Dennis DeWitt relayed Monday during commissioners court.

DeWitt, according to information given to him, showed that if the wind farm operates at its maximum, landowners would receive about $25 per acre yearly and $160 per acre if they have a turbine on their property.

His words came as he recapped a meeting Feb. 26 in Pawnee.

“A survey was given to all the people there,” he said during a court meeting this week. Thirty-four landowners surveyed said they did not want the turbines “at any price.”

Lincoln Clean Energy is proposing a wind farm on the north end of the county, attempting to sign leases with the landowners of that area.

“Most wind projects are in three phases,” he said. At each phase, the company ownership often changes and involves a new set of contacts.

“It was stressed to the group that each phase is sold to enhance revenues to the former commercial owner.

“Lincoln Clean Energy does not operate any wind projects.”

A Lincoln representative spoke to commissioners earlier about their proposed project.

“Eric Barnett (company representative) stated there were two large landowners that have officially signed,” DeWitt said. “He further stated they had approximately 8,000 acres out of the needed 20,000 acres and unless they could obtain enough property by midsummer 2019, the project may not move forward to completion.

“He stated they were considering towers taller and bigger than the 400-foot towers originally engineered so they could use fewer towers on less land.”

Five towers, which monitor wind flows, have already been built to secure the federal tax benefits for the project by beginning construction in 2018.

“Bee County has not been approached for any type tax abatement by the company,” DeWitt said. “Speculation is they would not approach the court for an abatement unless they had signed enough land to complete the project.”

Barnett, in his comments to the court, said that abatements are common in this type of project with the county receiving a per megawatt payment.

“The school would benefit a great deal,” Barnett told the court.

“Mr. Barnett advised the court a Danish company had recently purchased Lincoln Clean Energy and was in the process of rearranging office space,” DeWitt said.

Barnett, during the court’s Feb. 25 meeting, said, “Lincoln has developed about 2 megawatts of wind energy in Texas alone.”

Being part of the Danish company now gives Lincoln considerably more financial backing for wind projects such as this.

“It allows us to build projects in areas where others can’t because they operate on private capital,” he said. “We don’t have to get a construction loan to finance these projects.”

At the landowner meeting last month of an estimated 50 people, many voiced concerns and posed questions about this project.

One was that the “representative insinuates they have eminent domain authority” when, unlike the oil industry, they do not have this right.

“Who removes towers at end of project?” DeWitt recalled of the concerns.

“The wind company has right of first review/refusal/modification of any lease – oil, gas, pipeline, caliche or other lease – that you are presented with after you sign a lease with the wind company to determine if it could interfere with the wind company’s operation.

“In Georgetown, a town of 70,000 people, several years ago, city council decided to go totally renewable energy for the city’s electrical needs.

“The city purchased 20- and 25-year contracts with wind and solar companies.

“Georgetown contracted for 200 percent of capacity that they needed. Over a three-year period, they have lost $30 million. It was stated Georgetown is now paying other towns to buy their electricity.”

While DeWitt is not petitioning to stop this construction, he said many of those in the area were concerned.

“The footprint of this project includes my family ranch,” DeWitt said. “As a landowner, we declined their offer.”

County Judge Stephanie Moreno said, “If the landowners are supportive of this venture we will support the landowners.

“If they are not supportive of it, I am sure we will hear from the landowners… and we will go from there.”

While this farm is being met with resistance, a similar farm is under construction in southern Bee County extending into San Patricio County.

Commissioners agreed to a tax abatement in that case as residents there were in favor of the construction.

“We all know the wind farms are coming, and they are in Bee County,” DeWitt said. “We have one under construction now.

“There are three more that have made contact.”

Another company is now proposing a farm along Baker Road in Papalote, DeWitt said.