BISD agrees to review Chapter 313 application
A Chapter 313 application from La Casa Wind, LLC, from NextEra Energy Resources, was approved by Breckenridge ISD last week during a special meeting. The application is related to a 150 MW wind energy farm being considered for the southeast portion of Stephens County.
The BISD Board of Trustees last Wednesday unanimously approved the application from La Casa Wind, LLC, for an appraised value limitation on qualified property and authorized the superintendent to review the application for completeness for submission to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The board also gave the superintendent the authority to enter into any agreement to extend the deadline for board action beyond the 150-day review period.
Also unanimously approved was the retention of law firm Leon Alcala, PLLC, and financial consultant Jigsaw School Finance Solutions, LLC. Leon Alcala (originally Sara Leon and Associates, LLP) was hired by the district during a June 2021 board meeting. Both firms will assist the district in reviewing and processing the application from La Casa Wind.
Mackenzie Walters, of Leon Alcala, spoke to the board regarding how the approval of the application is only the first step in the process. Walters stressed that the approval of the application was not a final decision on the project as a whole.
“You are not here to make any final decisions at all,” Walters said. “It’s a little bit silly, but I like to compare this as our first coffee date with the applicants. They’re coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, we are interested, we have an application. We’d like for you to consider it.’ If you accept the application tonight, you’re just saying, ‘All right, I’ll consider getting to know you a little more.’”
Walters discussed how the next step is for the application to be submitted to the comptroller’s office. She explained how the comptroller’s office will review the application and details of the project.
“They do a thorough review of (the project) to make sure that it meets all of the requirements of Chapter 313. One of those requirements that it has to meet, in order for us to move forward, is that the project has to be able to bring back all of the value that you would have received even without that project,” she said. “(...) the comptroller’s office is not going to certify this project, if it’s not going to bring back value, so you’re not gonna lose anything. One, you’re not losing anything at all by accepting an application and just considering it. Once you have information from the comptroller’s office, you’ll have information from us, your legal counsel. And tonight, if you move forward with this, you will be hiring a financial consultant. And they are going to provide very specific numbers for exactly what this project could do for the school district on the number side. So you’re going to have plenty of information in front of you to make that decision. Nothing is going to be a surprise, you’re going to have everything you need to consider whether this is a benefit for your district or not. So right now, we’re not getting married, we’re not sealing the deal. We’re just saying, ‘I’ll go out for coffee.’”
Walters said once the application is submitted, the district would probably receive the report back from the comptroller’s office within three to four months.
Melissa Bruni, a representative of NextEra, spoke about the company and the project they are trying to bring into the county.
“One of the things that makes us different than a lot of other developers is we own and operate our assets. So not only have we been working with the landowners from the ground, but we anticipate operating the wind farm for 35 years,” Bruni said. “(...) So you’ll have NextEra employees, repairing the wind turbines, and that’s also important because they’re our assets, we’re going to want to take care of them, make sure they’re in good working order and that the land is maintained. La Casa wind farm is 150 megawatts total, little over 50 turbines. We typically use GE turbines, I’m sure you guys have seen them around.”
According to Bruni, “a little over 60 landowners” have currently signed lease contracts with the company.
“(...) that’s important because this is all private land. So these landowners have decided that this is what they would like to do with their land, and they have entered into these agreements. So all private land ownership, really excited about the project,” she said.
Jimmy McKay, Place 4 Trustee, asked Bruni how many landowners there were within the zone who have not yet signed a contract. Bruni stated that they typically hold that information separately, in order to not divulge private information of the landowners, but said, to her knowledge, “the majority are signed.”
Bruni also spoke about how, as part of the lease agreements, NextEra has agreed to “greenfield” everything back to its original land use when the wind farm is decommissioned.
“So once we decommission the wind farm, the land will be completely greenfielded back. So that’s another exciting point, that maybe people don’t think about, so our assets just aren’t stranded,” she said. “(...) So if the land use was for ranching before, we’re going to take all of our assets up out of the ground and the land could be used for ranching again. We reseed everything with the natural grasses. A wind turbine itself doesn’t actually take up much space, way less than an acre. The foundations are usually about 50 feet in diameter, (...) so a lot of the land can still be used for ranching with the wind farm there.”
The issue of property values was also discussed. Will Thompson, chief appraiser of Stephens County Appraisal District, stated he was going to continue to study more information on property values.
“I have talked to other appraisers in other counties, and it’s real mixed. Some land values around farms go down and some land values go up,” Thompson said.
Bruni stated that independent studies have reflected the same information. She also discussed that typically when property values increase, it is due to the investment the wind farm makes in the infrastructure surrounding the property.
“We have to maintain roads. Roads are incredibly important. It’s also an incredibly important part of a county’s infrastructure. And so when the county is able to tax an entity, this is a $150 million investment, we’re gonna get taxed for it. Those tax dollars typically the county puts into infrastructure, maintaining that infrastructure,” Bruni said. “We, during the construction process, will reinforce any county or state roads. We work closely with the DOT (Texas Department of Transportation), we work with the county. We always enter into a road use agreement with the county. What that means is we will survey the roads prior to construction, we repair any type of road damage, or reinforce the roads during construction, and we leave those improvements there. And then we also do a post construction survey, send that to the county, as well, to make sure that we’re leaving everything either the same or better than how it was when we got there. And so that does help in regards to property values, just the maintenance of county infrastructure.”
Within the application, La Casa Wind is asking for a waiver of the job creation requirement of Chapter 313. In a letter to BISD Superintendent Bryan Allen, La Casa Wind states that the job creation requirement exceeds the industry standard for the number of employees reasonably necessary to operate the facility.
“La Casa Wind, LLC requests that Breckenridge ISD makes such finding and waive the job creation requirement for 10 permanent jobs. La Casa Wind, LLC has committed to create 1 full time permanent position for the operation and maintenance of the facility. The qualifying position will be compensated at the rate of 110% of the regional manufacturing wage as well as offer company benefits. Such positions shall be employed by La Casa Wind, LLC or by the contractor it employs to operate and maintain the facility,” the letter states.
According to the application, BISD is not the only taxing entity within the county who would be impacted by the wind farm project. Both Stephens County and Stephens Memorial Hospital District would be able to tax 100% of the project at their current tax rates of $0.80/$100 of valuation and $0.277/$100 of valuation, respectively.