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Pawnee school trustees OK wind farm tax abatement

PAWNEE – Helena Wind, LLC is one step closer to establishing a wind farm in north Bee County.

A tax abatement application was approved during the Jan. 14 meeting of the Pawnee Independent School District (ISD) board of trustees.

Superintendent Michelle Hartmann said after the meeting that the board’s vote was unanimous despite trustee Julissa James being absent. The application now heads to Austin for final approval by the state comptroller.

“Eric Barnett (of Helena Wind) has addressed the board on two other meetings and did a thorough job of explaining project and its ongoing progress,” Hartmann said. “The board and district administration have done thorough research on (Chapter) 313 agreements by consulting legal counsel.”

According to Helena Wind’s application, the company wishes to invest $241.6 million to erect 60 wind turbines – 48 in the Pawnee ISD, 12 in the Pettus ISD – that will produce 252 megawatts of electricity.

Additionally, they want to build an operation and maintenance building, substation, access roads to the turbines, overhead transmission lines and meteorological towers.

The proposed 25,000-acre project area, which Helena Wind would include in a reinvestment zone, is located between the area south of Farm to Market Road 623 to just north of FM 798.

“Without the available tax incentives, the economics of the project become far less attractive, and the likelihood of selling the electricity at a competitive price will significantly decrease,” according to the application. “The applicant for this project is competing against other developers who have been offered or are in the process of applying for value limitation agreements with other school districts.

“Obtaining the limitation is critical to the economic and competitive viability of this project. Without the limitation approval, the applicant would likely terminate the project, including the aforementioned contracts, leases and limited improvements, in order to reallocate resources in areas with more favorable economics.”

The application lists the total annual tax levy of the property as $705,660. Helena Wind is seeking 10 years in tax incentives starting in 2022, in the amount of $387,660 – almost 55 percent – per year. As a result, the net tax levy would be $318,000.

Also related to the project, trustees voted to retain the services of the law firm O’Hanlon Demrath and Castillo to assist the district in processing the Chapter 313 application.

“The cost of their services is covered by the application process. There is not a cost to local taxpayers,” Hartmann said. “Legal counsel presented on the 313 process and, with assistance from Moak Casey, provided estimated projections on financial impact to the district if a 313 agreement is approved.”

Helena Wind also could approach the Pettus ISD with a similar agreement.