Breckenridge Texan

Citizen input important in tax abatements request for proposed wind farm in southeastern Stephens County

Citizen input important in tax abatements request for proposed wind farm in southeastern Stephens County
August 28
15:37 2023

Editor’s Note: A version of this column was included in this week’s edition of the Breckenridge Texan’s Weekly News Roundup email newsletter.


By Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

I’ve written before in my newsletter column about how covering public meetings can be routine and sometimes even boring. But that was not the case last Monday when I covered the commissioners court’s public hearing on whether or not they should accept NextEra Energy Resource’s application requesting property tax abatements from the county for their proposed La Casa Wind Farm in southeastern Stephens County.

The photojournalist in me could not have asked for a better subject. The lighting was great, and that old courtroom is just cool. But more importantly, there was a lot of passion and emotion in that room. Pretty much everybody in there had some kind of stake in the outcome of the process.

The meeting was a very human thing. You can see it in the faces of the people in the photographs I took that day. But even with the high-stakes emotion at play in the room, people were civil and respectful to each other. It was a great exercise in democracy. It was how our government is supposed to work. People talked, and people listened.

The proposed wind farm has been a very emotional topic from the beginning. It played out publicly last year in BISD school board meetings and at a public hearing in Bailey Auditorium after NextEra had filed an application requesting a tax breaks from the school district through a now-ended state economic stimulus program.

Crowds showed up at the school board meetings and the BISD public hearing to speak. However, in the end, the state rejected NextEra’s application before the school board had a chance to vote on whether or not to approve the tax breaks.

So now it falls on four county commissioners and the county judge to decide whether to provide NextEra with their requested property tax abatements from the county. And based on the number of folks who showed up at last Monday’s public hearing, there’s plenty of interest in what they decide. Of course, even if the commissioners court turns down the proposed tax abatements, NextEra can still build the wind turbine project; they just won’t get the tax breaks from the county. That’s a business decision they will have to make if it comes down to that.

When you have a situation like this, there are several stakeholders involved — the company that wants to build the wind farm, the people who support it and the people who are opposed to it. Then you have the members of the Commissioners Court who must decide whether or not to approve the tax abatements.

They are charged with weighing the proposed economic benefits to the county, promised by NextEra to build the farm, against the detrimental effects to the location where it will built, claimed by those opposed to it. In reality however, there is also another stakeholder — everybody who lives in Stephens County, because when you have a project the size of a wind farm and millions of dollars of tax abatements and revenue at stake, it affects every taxpayer in Stephens County.

But even more than that, this particular proposed wind farm will have a direct impact on the new Palo Pinto Mountains Park that is under construction in that area. So I guess you could say there’s yet another stakeholder — the citizens of Texas.

That’s why I commend the commissioners court for their commitment to complete and total transparency throughout the entire process in deciding on the abatements. And they showed that transparency during last Monday’s public hearing. Lots of questions were asked and answered, and other questions and concerns were put forward by citizens at the meeting. The court promised to get answers to those, too. They also took all the information provided to them at the meeting, documents, maps, etc., and are compiling them into a digital PDF file that anybody can access.

Like I’ve said before, the Breckenridge Texan will not take a stand on this. Our job is to cover the news. But we will ask questions, and we will read lots of documents and try to provide our readers with the most complete coverage we can.

While the wind farm may seem like a project that involves only a handful of landowners in one corner of the county, it’s not. It’s big; it directly affects the first new state park built in Texas in over 25 years. It involves wind turbines that will be seen for many miles and for many years, even decades. So that’s why it’s so important that everybody in Stephens County educate themselves on the impact of the project and weigh the cost and benefits of providing NextEra with property tax abatements to support the project. Then, let your county commissioner know which way you stand on this project.

To do that, I challenge you to do what any good reporter would do…check it out for yourself. First hop over to the Breckenridge Texan and read all the stories we’ve written about the proposed project; then, check out the documents that the commissioners court has put in the public file, including NextEra’s application to the county asking for the tax abatements

Then, drive out to the area where the proposed wind farm is supposed to be built and look around. Try to imagine what it would look like with wind turbines built there, during both day and at night. Then, think about the new state park located out near there and how it will be affected.

Then, from town, drive a few miles up Highway U.S. 183 North and take a look at the wind turbines that were installed in Throckmorton County. Check them out during the day and at night. Then, take a ride out to Hubbard Creek Lake at night; drive up County Roads 206 and 208 and look back across the lake at night and see what you think about being able to see the flashing red lights in Throckmorton County across the lake.

A couple of other good spots to see what the wind turbine farm will look like at night from a distance is on U.S. 183 South, about five miles south of Breckenridge on the place everybody calls five-mile hill. Heading toward Breckenridge from there, you can see the wind turbines in Throckmorton County and get an idea of what they look from a distance.

To get a different perspective, at night go to the intersection of U.S. Highway 180 and Graham Avenue, near the 7-Eleven and look north down Graham Avenue toward East Elementary and the Industrial Loop. And, finally, go north on State Highway 67 (aka the Graham Highway) and look to the west/northwest when you get about 2 miles down the road from U.S. Highway 180; in several spots, you can the see the wind turbines in Throckmorton there, too.

When you’re done with your reporting, give your report to your commissioner and the county judge. Let them know what you think. Do you think providing tax abatements for the proposed wind farm is a good idea? Tell them. Do you think it’s a bad idea? Tell them that. If you don’t know for sure and still have some questions, contact them and ask them your questions.

There are lots of ways to contact them, by phone, fax, email or, of course, in person when you see them around town. There is also another public hearing on the wind farm scheduled for Sept. 25 when you can speak. The Sept. 25 meeting was scheduled specifically to give NextEra a chance to respond to questions that are being compiled by the Commissioners Court. And, you can always sign up to speak at any regular commissioners court meeting.

While each commissioner on the court may represent their particular precinct, as a group, they represent all of Stephens County. And when it comes to something as big as a wind farm and millions of dollars in tax abatements and revenue, the more people in the county they hear from, the better decision they can make for the county.


To read more about the proposed wind farm, click here read the latest story on the Breckenridge Texan.

To subscribe to the Breckenridge Texan’s Weekly News Roundup email newsletter, click here.


Cutline, top photo: Stephens County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Warren, front right, interacts with one of the speakers at the public hearing on Aug. 21 about NextEra Energy Resources’ request for tax abatements for a proposed wind farm in southeastern Stephens County. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)



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