A French energy company that boasts wind power projects in Brazil, India, Norway and Kansas has set its sights just outside Mart, a one-stoplight town 20 miles from Waco.
Where wind turbines may soon stand on a property straddled by Farm-to-Market Road 939 and JPM Road, 2 miles away from Mart’s city center, tall native grasses blew in the wind as Mayor Len Williams, also the interim superintendent of Mart Independent School District, described Engie North America Inc.’s proposed Prairie Hill Wind Farm project as a breath of fresh air to the community of 2,000 people, and to the school district’s tax base.
If the sustainable energy project receives final approval from state and local agencies, along with Engie investors, 300 wind turbines will be constructed across 52,000 acres in McLennan and Limestone Counties.
Texas, the nation’s leading oil-producing state, also leads the country in wind power production capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
On average, each turbine produces about 1 megawatt of energy, enough to power about 200 homes during peak periods. Wind energy produced from the proposed Prairie Hill Wind Farm would provide electricity to Engie’s private customers rather than residents of Mart.
Wind speeds in Mart average about 7 meters per second at a height of 80 meters, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Areas with annual average wind speeds of about 6.5 meters per second are considered suitable for wind energy development, according to the DOE.
Most of the proposed turbines would be on land in the boundaries of Mart ISD, adding to the district’s tax base, and some turbines would be on vacant district property, adding land’s value, Williams said.
Each turbine could add about $1 million in property value, raising the prospect of a $300 million boost in taxable property value, he said.
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 to the district for at least 10 years, Williams said.
“If they (Engie) don’t get exempt from paying some of them (taxes) they won’t do it,” Williams said. “And that’s how it is everywhere.”
About 500 school districts in Texas have similar value-limitation agreements or applications on file with the Secretary of State. About 200 of those agreements are with wind energy companies.
Williams said the renewable energy project could be a “big shot in the arm” if it means the cash-strapped district receives an additional $50,000 in annual state funding for the next 15 years.
Right now the project is in a “mid-level” development stage, Engie spokeswoman Julie Vitek said.
“We have secured land for the project and are working on the proposed layout of the wind farm as well as determining the optimal wind turbine type,” Vitek said.
Area landowners have 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, Williams said.
“That helps them out a little bit,” he said. “They were all really excited about it.”
The average median household income in Mart is about $34,000, about $20,000 less than the national average.
If approved, the project could add seven full-time jobs to the local economy and 200 temporary construction jobs, Williams said.
Construction could start by late next year, Vitek said. If everything goes smoothly, the wind farm could start commercial operation in 2020.