Breckenridge Texan

Wind farm company seeks tax abatements from Stephens County; public hearing scheduled for Aug. 21

Wind farm company seeks tax abatements from Stephens County; public hearing scheduled for Aug. 21
August 14
08:28 2023

By Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

NextEra Energy Resources, aka La Casa Wind, LLC, has filed an application asking Stephens County Commissioners for almost $5 million in tax abatements for a planned wind farm, and the commissioners will hold a public hearing on Aug. 21 to gather public input on the application.

This map shows the area, marked in red, of the proposed wind farm in southeastern Stephens County. It is included in the application requesting that Stephens County establish a reinvestment zone and provide tax abatements to La Casa Wind, LLC.

The 438-page application specifically asks the commissioners to create a reinvestment zone of approximately 15,000 acres for the proposed La Casa Wind Farm in the southeastern corner of Stephens County and for a Tax Abatements agreement that will reduce their tax bill by an estimated $4,709,330 over a 10-year period.

The application request for the project is in accordance with Chapter 312 of the Texas Property Code.  The first few pages of the application include the request, as well as details about the proposed wind farm, maps and information about the estimated taxable value of the project. According to the application, the remaining pages include copies of the Memorandum of Lease and Easement Agreements with landowners who have agreed to lease land to the company for the wind farm, included as proof that the company owns or leases property within the proposed reinvestment zone. Click here to see the first few pages of the application. A copy of the full application can be obtained from the Stephens County Judge’s office.

The is the second time La Casa Wind, LLC, has filed with a local government entity seeking tax breaks for their proposed wind turbine project at that location.

Last year, they submitted an application for a Chapter 313 Value Limitation Agreement between the Breckenridge Independent School District and La Casa Wind, LLC, which was filed electronically on May 16, 2022. Because the Chapter 313 program was a state program that was controlled by the Texas Comptroller’s office, all applications had to be approved by them before a school district could enter into an agreement with a company. In December, La Casa’s request was turned down by the Comptroller’s office.

BISD Superintendent Bryan Allen said at the time that the Comptroller’s Office sent him a letter by email 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 Stephens County in the same area as the proposed wind farm, and interference with a military training corridor that crosses over the area.

Tax Abatement Request

According to the application that was filed with the Stephens County Commissioners Court in July, La Casa Wind, LLC, is requesting an agreement between the company and the county for a 10-year abatement on the property taxes and the creation of a reinvestment zone at the location. Specifically, the application said, the abatement is requested to be structured as a 60 percent abatement on property taxes over the first five years and a 40 percent abatement on property taxes during the second five years.

Under the 60/40 percent abatement structure proposed by La Casa Wind, LLC, according to tax estimate calculations provided on the worksheet in the application, they will save an estimated $4,709,880 on property taxes during the 10-year abatement. That means over the 30-year life of the project, according to their worksheet, if they did not receive the abatements, they would pay $14,365,134 in property taxes to the county, but with the 10-year abatement they will pay $9,655,254 in taxes to the county.

As for as school taxes, there will be no discount. According to the application, because the project did not receive a Chapter 313 agreement with BISD or Ranger ISD last year, they will pay 100 percent of the maintenance and operation, and interest and sinking fund taxes for the school districts, which according to their worksheet, will result in BISD receiving $15,893,986 in taxes over the 30-year life of the project and Ranger ISD receiving $4,789,499 during that period.

Also, according to a cover letter included in the application, there would be several economic benefits to Stephens County, including the $210 million investment in the County to build the plant, $9.6 million of additional county taxes and over $20 million of additional school taxes for BISD and Ranger over the life of the wind farm’s operation. The letter said there will also be three permanent full-time operation and maintenance positions created, as well as hundreds of construction jobs while the plant is being built.

The application states that the La Casa Wind project will consist of 53 wind turbines and will generate approximately 150.4 MW/AC (Megawatts-AC) of power. It will be located in the southeastern portion of Stephens County. Construction is anticipated to start in early 2024, according to the application, and is expected to completed by December 2024 and be fully operational.

Reinvestment Zone

Stephens County Judge Michael Roach said the approval of a tax abatement is a three-step process that will include up to three public county commissioner meetings and three public hearings.

He said the first step requires the commissioners court to vote on whether to accept or deny the application, which was submitted with a $1,000 non-refundable filing fee. A public hearing and commissioners court meeting for that vote is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 21.

If the application is accepted, then the commissioners will schedule another public hearing and commissioners court meeting to hold a vote on whether to create the reinvestment zone. He said they are required to create a reinvestment zone before they can approve any tax abatements. If the reinvestment zone is approved, then a third public hearing and commissioners court meeting will be held to vote on whether to approve the tax abatement.

“If the County Commissioners Court approves the application (on August 21), it doesn’t approve the abatement (at that time); it just approves the process to open up negotiations with NextEra,” Roach said. “And, if the court approves their application, then we’ll set up a meeting to negotiate the reinvestment zone. Once that’s done, then we’ll have to work out the details to see if abatement is something we even want to do or not. But, that all starts on Monday (Aug. 21) at 9 a.m.”

A reinvestment zone is a geographical area within the county that allows the commissioners court to offer tax abatements in that specific area. Roach said what some counties did early on with wind farms was make the whole county or a whole precinct an investment zone. He said a problem with that is that there’s a risk that once the county approves an abatement agreement to cover a large area, there’s a chance new projects can be added later under the same agreement without much added benefit to the county.

“So the part of the investment zone is saying, ‘Okay, what is your project? What is the footprint of it?’ And you only want to, in theory, set a geographical boundary that just includes that current project, and no future project,” he said. “So if they were to expand their footprint in that particular wind farm, they’d have to come back. We’d have to do another reinvestment zone to expand that area and a new abatement. So the reinvestment zone would be a geographical area, a land area in Stephens County, that an abatement can be offered, and only projects inside of that geographical boundary would qualify for the tax abatement.”

Once they open negations on creating the reinvestment zone, Roach said, they will look at the many different ways the county and its residents can benefit.

Roach said the commissioners court intends to be very open and transparent throughout all the stages, from considering whether or not to accept the application, to creating the reinvestment zone to approving any tax abatements.

“We’re going to take this very systematic, very open, and in a transparent way, we’re gonna walk through this thing,” he said. “And we expect answers…we’re going to require it…for us to move this thing forward.”

He said he does not expect representatives from NextEra to be present at the first public hearing and meeting on Aug. 21 but has asked the attorney who represents the county in regard to the wind farm to be on-hand to answer any questions or address any concerns the public might have.

However, he said, the commissioners court will require representatives from NextEra to be there for the public hearing and meeting about creating the reinvestment zone. He said he wants to make sure the commissioners and the public get a clear understanding of what the specific geographical boundaries of the zone will be and where the proposed wind farm actually will be located.

“What we want is an actual footprint of what we’re talking about, and we want specificity from them on a lot of things,” he said. “… I will not support any abatement or reinvestment zone if the company, NextEra or whomever it is, does not provide a specific plan detailing the scope of their project. I won’t support it. We’re not going to approve it now and build it later. That’s not gonna happen.”

The county judge said the commissioners court is going to approach this project with an open mind and see what’s best for the county without political agendas.

“You can’t just totally disassociate yourself from it, but I’m not going to tolerate a bunch of nonsense from either side of this deal,” Roach said. “We’re gonna stick to the facts of this. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.”

Previous Proposal

To read more about the previous NextEra proposal, read the following Breckenridge Texan articles:

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

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


Cutline, top photo: The proposed wind farm is planned for southeastern Stephens County, which includes views such as this one seen from the balcony of Jenny and Earl Brunner’s house last Fall. The Brunners were active in last year’s opposition to La Casa Wind Farm, LLC, application for tax abatements from the Breckenridge school district. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)



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