PAWNEE – There are perhaps few issues that are as polarizing in the Pawnee area as Helena Wind LLC’s planned wind farm.
The company is a subsidiary of multinational green energy company Orsted, which is based in Denmark. According to Helena Wind’s application for a tax-value limitation that was approved by the state comptroller, plans are to invest $241.6 million to erect 60 wind turbines – 48 in the Pawnee Independent School District, 12 in the Pettus ISD – that produce 252 megawatts of electricity. The turbines will span a 25,000 acre area from south of Farm-to-Market Road 623 to just north of FM 798.
During public hearings July 14 related to the adoption of the appraised value limitation and the creation of a reinvestment zone for the project area, citizens made their feelings known.
“As you know, I am against wind energy, personally,” said Austin Brown. “I think it’s an eyesore and I never will allow it on my land. … You’re not here tonight to decide if you like wind energy. You’re here to decide whether you want your tax dollars to go overseas.”
Former state Rep. John Davis, now a member of Conservative Texans for Energy Innovation, said he was one of the coauthors of the 2001 legislation that created Chapter 313, which allows for value limitation agreements. He shared an anecdote of how a similar project saved his family’s West Texas ranch.
Tatiana Stein, Helena Wind’s project development manager, promised that the wind farm is a “stable revenue source” and the project’s website has 18 letters of support from community members and elected officials.
Residents Michael and Matilda Manning, who were not present at the meeting and submitted their comments in a letter read by Superintendent Michelle Hartmann, said, “The board of trustees should have a clear understanding of what to do for this district. Wind energy produces a positive revenue stream that still allows for other uses of the land.”
When it came time to vote on the creation of the Helena Reinvestment Zone No. 1, the board voted 5-2, with trustees Jennifer Card and Pete Dobson casting the dissenting votes.
Helena Wind’s application lists the total annual tax levy of the property as $705,660. The company wants 10 years in tax incentives starting in 2022, in the amount of $387,660 per year, leaving $318,000 as the net tax levy. This did not sit well with Dobson, the board’s president.
“Since (the Chapter 313) law went into effect in 2002, the state has lost $7 billion in tax value because of these tax easements,” he said. “We’re giving up $14 million to get $2 million. To me, that doesn’t sit right.”
The findings of fact on Helena Wind’s application for the appraised value limitation also passed by a 5-2 vote, as did the adoption of the appraised value limitation agreement. But the waiver of job creation requirements passed by a slim 4-3 margin, with trustee Dane Elliott joining Dobson and Card in their dissent.
Elliott was torn in his support for the rest of the votes and became emotional when he said, “We’re elected and we’re sitting in this room to make sure our kids get the best chances they can get. If it means seeing windmills off the back porch, so we can get $3 million for our kids, then so be it.”
Dobson, citing Pawnee’s new facilities, good financial standing and comparatively low property tax rate, said that the district lacks for nothing.
“Maybe we need to take the $3 million and give it back to the taxpayers.”