McLennan County officials are considering tax incentives to get the wheels turning on a $330 million project to scatter 100 wind turbines across McLennan and Limestone counties, which would generate tax revenue for local government and power for thousands of homes.
French energy powerhouse Engie, with North American offices in Houston, continues efforts to place a wind farm on unincorporated land near the 2,000-person Mart community, having pursued easement deals with dozens of property owners. Engie spokeswoman Julie Vitek said construction may start this year, and commercial operations may start next year.
“We currently have two customers for this project but have not announced who the specific customers are,” Vitek wrote in an email response to questions. “The Prairie Hill wind project is expected to have a capacity of 300 megawatts. … The layout has not been finalized, though the majority of the turbines are to be located in Limestone County and within Mart Independent School District.”
McLennan County officials are preparing for their arrival with a potential reinvestment zone spanning 7,887 acres on the county’s eastern border with Limestone County.
County commissioners were scheduled Tuesday to consider a series of agenda items related to the zone, including a tax abatement agreement with Prairie Hill Wind Project LLC. McLennan County also would send other taxing entities a notice of its intentions to enter into an agreement.
Those items did not come up for a vote, having been pulled from the agenda at the urging of the county’s legal counsel, attorney Mike Dixon.
“There was an error in posting,” Dixon said after the meeting. “There were a couple of properties within the reinvestment zone that were within an incorporated area. We can only set up such a zone in unincorporated areas. We will be correcting that, and it will come before commissioners again.”
Dixon said the commissioners court is required to hold public hearings on establishing the tax abatement district, which would provide tax relief or tax-related incentives to developers of the Prairie Hill Wind Farm.
Dixon said it is his understanding only nine of the proposed 100 wind turbines would be placed in McLennan County, “though I have not yet confirmed that.”
“They want to keep their target businesses under the radar for now, but they would be announced at the public hearing,” Dixon said. “Usually, in these green energy deals, the school districts are the ones who come out best. That’s a good thing. The Mart ISD likely would enter into an agreement with the developer that would guarantee a steady flow of revenue.”
Mart Mayor Len Williams, who also serves as interim Mart ISD superintendent, did not return calls seeking comment.
Late last year, Williams told the Tribune-Herald area landowners had already received an initial $8,000 from Engie for use of the land, another $5,000 for legal services, and a promise to pay an undisclosed amount to each landowner annually. The average median household income in Mart is about $34,000, which is $20,000 less than the national average.
Monte Hulse, president of the board of The First National Bank of Central Texas, said he owns 165 acres near Mart and gave an easement along the border of the property.
“They were willing to pay for it,” Hulse said. “They told me they needed access to a wind farm going through. I think it was the Prairie Hill Wind Project. I did not know if it would come to fruition.”
Hulse said he spoke about the matter with the late Murray Watson, a local attorney, former state senator and Mart-area landowner, who assured him the company involved was legitimate. Hulse said he received a routine consent agreement about 18 months ago and has heard little else about the matter.
“Wind turbines and renewable energy are probably good things,” he said. “They can be a little unsightly, but on the other hand, they’ve done a lot for West Texas. I think it would be good to have another energy source.”
Wind speeds in Mart average about 7 meters per second at a height of 80 meters, according to a U.S. Department of Energy map. Areas with annual average wind speeds of about 6.5 meters per second are considered suitable for wind energy development, according to the DOE.
The wind farm proposed for McLennan and Limestone counties will have the capacity to generate 300 megawatts of electricity, Vitek said. Applying a standard that each megawatt would power 200 homes during peak periods, the farm could light up about 60,000 homes.
Williams said last year that each turbine could possibly add $1 million in property value. But Engie and the district have applied for a Chapter 313 School Value-Limitation Agreement with the state that would limit the company’s property taxes due the district for at least 10 years, he said at the time.
“The wind farm will be pretty much a tax revenue generator, not necessarily a big employer, though initial construction will mean jobs,” Dixon said. “Projects like these do benefit the county and the state. They do show that we are increasing green energy sources, which may prevent us from becoming one of those states, like California, rigorously regulated by the feds.”
Dixon said he could not put a firm figure on how much tax revenue the wind farm would generate for McLennan County.