Willacy County will require wind farm companies to keep roads maintained

RAYMONDVILLE — For years, tractor-trailers have hauled wind turbine parts across much of Willacy County.

They’ve rumbled along county-owned roads en route to wind farms springing up in the so-called “wind capital of Texas.”

Now, county commissioners want to “make sure” the wind farms properly maintain the county’s roads, County Judge Aurelio Guerra said.

So commissioners are requiring wind farm developers to agree to maintain the county’s roads and bridges as part of their tax abatement contracts.

“You have heavy equipment going in and out of county roads and they get beat up,” Guerra said.

As part of doing business, Guerra said, the wind farms make it their practice to maintain roads.

But amid a financial crunch that makes it difficult to fund road and bridge repairs, the county wants the wind farms to sign amended agreements, Guerra said.

“We’re on a tight budget. We have to make sure those roads (are maintained),” Guerra said. “They’re responsible to leave them as they found them or better.”

The new agreements also will request wind farms give the county first dibs at discarded material, Guerra said.

“Whatever material is left over, the county will get first choice to purchase the material at a good price or it (could be) donated to the county,” he said.

Local officials are currently working with three wind farms in Willacy County.

The latest developer, EDF Energy, a London-based company, plans to build about 100 wind turbines along the Santa Monica and Willamar areas.

For seven years, wind farms have changed much of this farm county’s landscape, pumping property tax dollars into rural school districts struggling with low tax bases.

Now, officials are counting on wind farms to help the county recover from last year’s closure of the Willacy County Correctional Center, the so-called tent-city that pumped a third of county’s revenue.

In 2009, E.ON Climate & Renewables launched the county’s first wind farm with 112 turbines across a 10-mile area east of I-69 and north of FM 186 between Raymondville and Port Mansfield.

In exchange, the county gave E.ON a 70-percent tax break but did not negotiate an agreement in which the company would make payments in lieu of taxes.

A year later, Duke Energy built 151 wind turbines across a 20,000-acre swath east of Sebastian.

As part of an agreement, the county gave Duke an 85-percent tax break in exchange for annual payments in lieu of taxes of $260,000 during a 10-year-period.

Last August, E.ON presented plans to expand its second wind farm from 100 turbines to 115 in an area north of FM 186 and east of I-69 near San Perlita.

To hold on to federal tax credits, the company must complete construction by 2017.

Under a contract, the county will give E.ON an 85-percent tax break on the $300 million project.

In exchange, the company agreed to pay the county about $200,000 a year in lieu of taxes during a 10-year period.

As part of the agreement, the wind farm, expected to generate 230 megawatts, will also pay the county $1,125 for every megawatt it produces per year for 10 years.

Under the contract, the wind farm will pay the county about $258,000 a year during the 10-year period, calculations show.