Breckenridge Texan

Following an often-tense public hearing, Commissioners Court votes 4-1 to give tax abatements to wind farm project

Following an often-tense public hearing, Commissioners Court votes 4-1 to give tax abatements to wind farm project
March 11
15:10 2024

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

In a split vote this afternoon, the Stephens County Commissioners Court voted 4 to 1 to approve an agreement that will dramatically change the landscape and skyline of the southeastern portion of the county for years to come with the installation of dozens of wind turbines. Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fambro — the commissioner who represents the residents who will be directly affected by the wind farm — was the only “no” vote.

Stephens County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Warren talks to the crowd in the courtroom Monday, March 11, before making a motion to approve the tax abatement agreement with La Casa Wind LLC/NextEra Energy. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

After hours of sometimes-tense discussion, debate, questions and answers, the commissioners approved a tax abatement agreement between Stephens County and La Casa Wind LLC, which is affiliated with NextEra Energy, for a wind turbine (windmill) project to be located in the southeastern quadrant of the county. Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Warren made the motion to approve the tax abatement with the wind farm company and authorize Roach to execute the abatement on behalf of the county, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark McCullough seconded the motion. Precinct 4 Commissioner Eric O’Dell and County Judge Michael Roach also voted to approve the agreement. Fambro voted against the abatement.

“I just felt there’s a lot of stuff that still need to be resolved. That’s it,” Fambro said during a break in the meeting, after the vote.

According to the draft of the agreement, Stephens County will abate 100 percent of all property taxes that would be owed by La Casa Wind to the county over a 10-year period, and the company will make annual payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) of at least $445,051 to the county. Additionally, the company will be required to make a $50,000 annual donation that will be distributed to local charities. La Casa Wind will be responsible for paying the full amount of the taxes owed to the local school district and hospital district.

Roach spoke for almost an hour at the beginning of the three-and-a-half-hour hearing on Monday, March 11, explaining the research the county did in advance of the hearing and offering information about why the county officials were planning to approve the abatement.

In addition to a guaranteed payment to the county, regardless of the value of the project, Roach pointed to regulation as a benefit to an abatement. Several times throughout the meeting, Roach said that he believes NextEra will build the wind farm whether or not they get the tax abatement; therefore, he said, he feels like the agreement allows the county to build in some regulations, such as the PILOT payments and charitable donations, that the company will be required to follow.

“If we say no abatement at all — none — if they come, they come unabated, which means there are no regulations,” Roach said. “So the abatement is the regulation. Without the abatement, you have no regulations.”

The proposed project will include about 53 wind turbines that, combined, will generate at least 150 megawatts. The draft of the agreement stipulates that the turbines must be located at least 1,400 feet away from any structures that the company does not have an agreement with.

Roach said that studies in Europe have determined that wind turbines generate noise that can be heard from a distance of 1,100 to 1,200 feet and that the noise can be compared to that of a household appliance.

One of the ongoing concerns about the location of the proposed wind farm is the impact it could have on the new state park located in eastern Stephens County and western Palo Pinto County. As part of the abatement agreement, La Casa Wind will be required to install an Aircraft Detection Lighting System that features lights on top of the wind turbines that turn on only if an aircraft is in the area.

For the meeting, a crowd of about 45 to 50 people was gathered in the courtroom. Following Roach’s presentation, several members of the public addressed the commissioners.

Keziah Ferrar, at the podium, tells NextEra Energy representative Matthew Johnson, left, “We don’t want you here,” during the public hearing about the proposed wind farm. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Steve Dempsey questioned several aspects of the proposed agreement, including the county’s lack of any ability to enforce the regulations required by the agreement, aside from canceling the abatement. Zola George also spoke, questioning some parts of the agreement and reading aloud several comments from area residents opposed to the wind farm.

When Keziah Ferrar spoke, she asked if there was anyone in the courtroom audience who was in favor of the wind farm, one man stood up and said he was; many others indicated that they were against the project.

“We don’t want you here,” Ferrar said, turning to face NextEra representative Matthew Johnson. “So, is there anyone here in this room that actually wants them to be here? Anyone? OK, so he is. So, sir, take note, one person in here — and there’s a lot of us that can’t be here today, a lot of people are at work — one person in here supports this project. We don’t want you (NextEra) in our community.”

Some of the continued concerns about the wind turbine project include diminished quality of life for those living in the area due to the noise and the interference with the landscape views, the potential for damage to roads and bridges caused by the heavy equipment that will be brought in, as well as the damage to property values in the general area of the wind farm.

“What I heard last week was these real estate agents can’t sell any land where they can even see wind turbines,” said Terri Bradley. “So for me, now I can’t sell my land for what I bought it for 20 years ago. And that’s wrong. There’s something really wrong with that. I understand everybody has their own rights, but they can’t stomp on everybody else’s, too. Why aren’t we compensated? Why can we get compensated for the reduction in our land value?”

Before he made the motion to approve the tax abatement, Warren spoke to the people in the courtroom. “I’ve been in this county since 1985, and I’ve worked at least four or five jobs all my life. So I’m really for the landowners,” he said. “I understand y’all are fighting for this because you don’t want it, but we’ve got people that do want it. Some of the guys are friends of mine who have worked the same —  hard — all their life, and I think it’s their right to get to have these, just as you think we don’t need them.”

Terri Bradley speaks to the Stephens County Commissioners during the public hearing about the proposed wind farm that will be located in the southeastern portion of the county. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Matthew Johnson with NextEra, at the podium, spoke to the Stephens County Commissioners and the crowd of about 45 to 50 people in the district courtroom on Monday, March 11. He answered some of the questions that had been asked and said he’d get answers on others. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: Stephens County Judge Michael Roach spoke for almost an hour Monday morning at the beginning of a public hearing regarding a tax abatement for a wind farm to be located in the southeastern quadrant of the county. At the end of the hearing, the commissioners court voted 4-1 to approve the abatement. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)



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