Wind Farm Windfalls (copy)

Wind turbines spin atop a mesa near the West Texas town of Sterling City in 2009. McLennan County commissioners are giving tax breaks to a wind farm in McLennan and Limestone Counties.

McLennan County commissioners this week approved tax breaks for a $330 million wind farm that is planned to spread across McLennan and Limestone counties and create at least 200 jobs during the construction phase.

The 360-megawatt Prairie Hill Wind Project will have the capacity to provide electricity to 108,000 homes at any given time, said Keith Kurtz, senior project developer for Engie North America, a division of France-based Engie. The company is placing 100 turbines on acreage straddling the county line, with nine scheduled to be installed in McLennan County.

“This will provide a huge boon to the local economy for close to a year,” said Kurtz, who traveled from Engie’s Chicago office to attend Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. “We will contract with someone to be in charge of hiring, to serve as what might be described as the general contractor. We are in the final stages of negotiations, but no deal has been struck.”

He said installation and related work will begin in the fourth quarter of this year, and wrap up 10 to 12 months later, in mid-2020, when Engie is looking to go online with a commercial operation, said Kurtz, adding, “We’re working with a few parties interested in becoming customers, but we have been asked to keep their identities confidential. They are American corporations.”

McLennan County and Engie, which is operating locally as Prairie Hill Wind Project LLC domiciled in Santa Barbara, California, have struck an abatement deal calling for Engie to pay the county $49,356 a year for 10 years, totaling nearly half-a-million dollars, according to documents the county provided. Engie has pledged to generate 27 megawatts of electricity within the county. For every megawatt it produces above that, it will pay the county $1,828.

Kurtz said the arrangement represents about a 70% tax break.

The Mart Independent School District will enjoy a $30 million increase in ad valorem tax revenue over 20 years, Kurtz said.

He said an international company, Nordex Acciona, will manufacture the blades and other parts for the massive turbines.

Once again, Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones was alone in voting against the tax abatement agreement. He told the Tribune-Herald last week he considers wind farms unsightly, and he does not believe the economic value of the proposed Prairie Hill Wind Project merits the tax breaks it will receive.

The farm will have fewer than five full-time employees in McLennan County after it becomes operational, according to county documents.

Limestone County will see considerably more financial benefit from the farm, as 91 of the 100 turbines generating more than 270 megawatts of electricity will twirl there. Limestone County Judge Richard Duncan said during an interview the county will receive about $500,000 annually for 10 years.

Duncan said the money will go toward infrastructure and equipment.

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