Wind farm seeks tax break in Cameron County

September 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Negotiations could begin soon to lure the county’s first wind farm to set up shop between Bayview and Laguna Vista, now that the Cameron County Commissioners’ Court has agreed to consider a county tax abatement for the company seeking to develop the property.


The Commissioners’ Court heard a presentation during its Sept. 26 meeting from Sergio Treviño, development manager at Pioneer Green Energy, who explained the preliminary scope of the plan while stressing that a competitive market means his company is considering many other locations for the farm, as well.

“This is an extremely competitive industry,” Treviño told the court, making a case for a tax break from the county in exchange for the project.

The wind farm is expected to install as many as 50 wind turbines throughout the land roughly bordered by FM 350, FM 510 and Highway 100.

Construction is expected to bring about 350 jobs to the Rio Grande Valley while the wind farm operations will mean the creation of five to 10 full-time positions.

Commissioners expressed concerns about the farm’s impact on migratory birds, however, as well as its possible effect on air traffic entering the county airport.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia C. Benavides was particularly concerned about whether the farm would affect construction of the proposed second causeway, which seeks to create a northern connection from the mainland to South Padre Island.

“I would not want to jeopardize that,” she said.

Treviño explained that the wind farm was miles away from the proposed causeway and that the spacing of the turbines — about one mile away from each other —  would not affect a connecting road between the two causeway entrances, either.

Precinct 3 Commissioner David Garza took aim at the project next, expressing concerns about the migratory patterns of birds, changes in the electromagnetic field and the need to increase the approach elevation of planes coming into the Port Isabel-Cameron County airport.

Garza cited the opinion of an official he said was a former employee of the Federal Aviation Authority.

Treviño pointed out that no one currently with the FAA had any concerns about the project, adding that no complaints were filed by any of those contacted about the proposal, which included pilots and others involved with aviation in the area.

He also said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had not expressed concerns about environmental issues, citing statistics showing that of the 550 million birds reportedly killed each year, less than 1 percent died due to complications from wind farms.

For comparison, he noted that 10 percent of birds are killed by cats.

A similar wind energy project in Willacy County had not experienced problems, he said, along with other farms along the Gulf Coast, which is a hot spot for wind farms due to windy conditions.

Treviño said the embracing of wind energy could end up boosting the area’s wildlife.

“The biggest threat that all animals face is climate change,” he said, explaining that sea level rise could threaten habitats for animals of all species. “These types of projects will allow that to not happen.”

But Garza was insistent that the airport concerns were legitimate, even as Treviño continued to note the FAA reported no concerns.

Garza said it was the consultant hired ahead of the FAA report by Treviño’s company that noted that there would need to be changes made to pilot approaches to the airport.

When that emerged in discussions, Treviño said that the consultant had gone a step further and found a better approach, which would allow planes to fly at a lower altitude than current approaches, simply from another direction.

He said his company is willing to earmark part of the tax abatement savings to help the county airport fund its implementation of the new approach.

County Judge Carlos H. Cascos attempted to focus the discussion, explaining that the county has no ability to bar the wind farm from development, only to grant it the tax abatement.

“The abatement is just a financial incentive for you to come,” he said.

Then Cascos circled around to the concerns Garza said others had shared with him.

“I don’t see how your company is going to mitigate these concerns,” Cascos said.

Treviño said the impacts were modest and that there were many avenues of mitigation.

“There are absolutely options,” he said.

Treviño also said that the land — farmland and brush — could continue to operate as it does now because each turbine takes up just less than one acre of property, meaning even 50 of the farms would take up less than 1 percent of the 4,000-acre lot.

He also said the land, appraised in 2013 to be worth $1.6 million, would greatly increase in property value meaning increased tax revenues for the county when the abatement, which won’t make the company 100 percent exempt from taxes in the meantime, expires.

The maximum number of years the property taxes can be abated is 10.

Cascos made a motion on the matter and after several seconds of silence, asked that the matter be approved and that the county move forward with negotiation of tax abatement terms with San Roman Wind I, the limited liability corporation handling the wind farm project.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Ernie Hernandez seconded the motion, but amid the vote, Garza said he would abstain because he did not have enough information.

Cascos then retracted his motion and the court voted to table the motion, asking Treviño to return with additional information about the project.

tjohnson@brownsvilleherald

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