Breckenridge Texan

Texas Comptroller’s Office turns down tax break application for proposed Stephens County wind farm, possibly killing project

Texas Comptroller’s Office turns down tax break application for proposed Stephens County wind farm, possibly killing project
December 01
19:27 2022

By Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

NextEra Energy’s proposed wind farm planned for southeastern Stephens County will not be getting the tax break they applied for under the Texas Tax Code Chapter 313 after the Comptroller’s Office declined to approve the application, according to a letter the local school district received this week.

However, the energy company may have the opportunity to appeal the decision, according to the Comptroller’s website.

NextEra, aka La Casa Wind LLC, had submitted the 313 application requesting that their taxable property value be limited to $20 million per year for property taxes to be paid to the Breckenridge Independent School District. If the application had been approved by the Comptroller’s Office, the final decision to grant the limitation would have been up to the BISD Board of Trustees. However, unless NextEra files an appeal to the decision and wins before the end of the month, the school board will not have anything to vote on, BISD Superintendent Bryan Allen said.

The decision against the 313 application does not mean NextEra cannot install wind turbines in Stephens County, just that the company will not be able to receive the value limitation from the school district and would have to pay the full amount of property taxes.

In addition to requesting the property value limitation from the school district, NextEra also planned to request that Stephens County give them a 50 percent abatement on their county property taxes, according to an amendment to their original 313 application. County Judge Michael Roach said that this week he met with Harrison Hu, who is overseeing the project for NextEra, and that Hu said the company will go back and take another look at the numbers before deciding how to proceed.

Allen said the Comptroller’s Office sent him a letter by email on Tuesday, informing him of the decision to not approve the application. The reasons cited were the economic impact that the wind turbines would have on the new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, part of which is located in the same area as the proposed wind farm, and interference with a military training corridor that crosses over the area.

“The 313 is supposed to bring an economic benefit to Texas and not an economic detriment,” Allen said. “And between the airbase and the state park, they felt like the economics weren’t in Texas’ favor.”

According to the letter Allen received from Lisa Craven, Deputy Comptroller, “… the Comptroller should only issue a certificate for a limitation on appraised value for projects that provide a net benefit to the state over the long term and advance the state’s economic development goals.”

In addition to requesting the value limitations for their property taxes, NextEra was also seeking an exemption on the number of local jobs they were required to have. According to the tax code, they needed to provide at least 10 local jobs. However, the 313 application states that only one employee would be needed long-term for the wind farm.

The letter from Craven explained that the location of the wind farm could jeopardize a military training mission located in Texas, thereby costing the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.  “On October 26, 2022, a military air traffic control specialist submitted objections pertaining to the proposed placement of wind turbines associated with this project due to the cumulative effect and degradation of training capability for training pilots from Naval Air Station Fort Worth (NAS Ft. Worth),” the letter stated. “The risk assessment matrix provided illustrates a potential degraded mission capability and unit readiness, which could lead to a realignment of this training mission. A realignment of this training mission to another air station would negatively affect the Texas economy as NAS Ft. Worth has a total value of goods and services in Texas at $2.7 billion and total employment of over 15,000 jobs.”

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also projected a potential negative economic impact to the state’s investment in a new state park by the proposed wind farm. “(Texas Parks and Wildlife Department) and various community stakeholders have invested over $50 million of public and private dollars in the acquisition and development of Palo Pinto Mountains State Park. TPWD asserts that the development of a large, industrial scale wind project proximate to a long planned and state supported new Texas state park poses serious concerns for this park specifically and the Department,” according to the letter. “TPWD initially estimates the state park will attract approximately 80,000 – 100,000 visitors annually which would generate annual revenue of approximately $732,516 in user fees to the state of Texas.”

Based on the projected negative economic impact to NAS Ft. Worth and Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, the Comptroller determined that a certificate for limitation on appraised value may not be issued because the project would not result in a net positive benefit to the state. Click here to read the complete letter from Craven to the school district.

Messages sent to NextEra/La Casa Wind LLC representatives Thursday afternoon and evening, Dec. 1, were not answered by the Breckenridge Texan’s publication time. However, according to the original 313 application, the company likely will not continue to pursue the project. “In the event an appraised value limitation agreement is not received by La Casa Wind, LLC it is rather certain that the capital allotted for the development of this project will be reallocated for use in another state where either the property tax burden is lower or economic incentives can be secured, namely locations where NextEra Energy is currently active including Oklahoma, Colorado, and California,” a statement in the application says.

The proposed wind farm had been a point of contention between two groups of local residents — those for the project and those against it. Many of those in favor of the wind farm have contracts with NextEra and will receive financial compensation if a wind turbine is placed on their property. Many of those against the proposed wind farm do not want the landscape in the area disrupted by the windmills; other concerns include potential issues with air ambulances and firefighting aircraft accessing the area, possible declines in property values in the area, and interference with the military training.

Local resident Steve Dempsey, who was opposed to the wind farm and voiced his opinions at several school board meetings, said that he and others are pleased about the Comptroller’s decision. “I’ve talked to several people, and everybody I’ve talked to is really excited. It’s kind of kind of amazing,” he said.

To read more about the proposed project, click the following links:

Proposed wind farm in southeastern Stephens County leads to differing opinions among local landowners

Letter to the Editor: Steve Dempsey explains his position on proposed Stephens County wind farm

Letter to the Editor: Zola George voices opposition to proposed Stephens County wind farm

Breckenridge Texan’s Weekly News Roundup Column regarding local and statewide interest in the proposed wind farm

 

Cutline, top photo: James Adams, right, superintendent of the new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park, and Justin Rhodes, a deputy director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin, spoke to the Stephens County Commissioners Court on Nov. 14, voicing their opposition to the proposed wind farm. They are concerned that the lights on top of the wind turbines will interfere with the night sky views that they expect park visitors to be seeking. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

 

 


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