The Randall County commissioner’s court spent more than an hour discussing details of Chermac Energy Corporation’s proposed tax abatement agreement for the wind farm they are working to build in southern Randall County. By the time they moved on to the next agenda item, three motions had been made and voted on, each failing by a 2-3 vote. By Wednesday afternoon, the court had a special meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday morning with the Chermac abatement question as the only agenda item.
James McAlpine was the primary spokesman for Chermac during the discussion. The proposal that was before the court as the discussion began called for an abatement of 80 percent of the county property taxes on the wind turbines and infrastructure for a 10 year period. County assistant criminal district attorney Richard Gore, who normally represents the court for legal matters, and who had been the county’s primary negotiator with Chermac, was absent for a medical procedure. Warren Clark, also from the district attorney’s office, was in Gore’s usual seat to advise the court.
McAlpine told the court that 68 turbines, generating 156 Megawatts of electricity, are proposed in the first phase of the wind farm, with completion planned for January 2016. After his opening remarks, the commissioners had a variety of questions, seeking information and expressing concerns with the details.
Commissioner Christy Dyer asked questions concerning the second phase operation, that proposes an additional 104 turbines, largely in Deaf Smith and Castro counties.
She asked for clarification and reassurance on Chermac’s commitment to repair any damages to roads caused by the projects.
She asked questions concerning wildlife protection, with particular regard to the Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge. She questioned whether Chermac was complying with zoning ordinances and about their construction timetable.
Commissioner Mark Benton’s questions centered largely around the economic impact to the area and whether the project would result in increased costs to the taxpayers.
Commissioner Bob Robinson discussed the “challenges” Chermac faced in Randall County, particularly with regard to connections to the transmission lines, noting that the costs to install a wind farm in Randall County are higher than in many other locations due to the “challenges” faced here.
Commissioner Buddy DeFord questioned how many land owners were specifically involved, and was told there were 10. His questioning brought into the discussion that 120-135 construction jobs would come to the county while the installation was being put in place. McAlpine speculated that the division between local residents and outside workers would be about evenly divided. McAlpine also estimated that about 10 new permanent jobs would be created by the wind farm.
Jim Childers of the Potter-Randall Appraisal District was invited to the presentation table to answer questions about the appraisal valuation of wind farms and any impacts that would have on the valuation of the property where the turbines were installed. Depreciation schedules for wind turbine equipment were also questioned, with Childers explaining some of the variables and adding that there is a 40 percent valuation floor when considering depreciation and that improvements and repairs were considerations that added value back to the taxable valuation over the life of the wind farm.
DeFord ended his initial questioning period with the statement, “As a commissioner, you’re kind of putting me to the wall,” as he expressed his belief that an 80 percent abatement “is excessive.”
County judge Ernie Houdashell, closing the initial round of questioning, observed that McAlpine and Chermac were trying to get the best return possible for their investors. He also noted that agreements were still pending with Canyon ISD and the South Randall Hospital District, also needed by Chermac to make the project viable.
The CISD process is legally different than the county process and is still underway. The hospital district had indicated they were waiting on the county agreement, intending to do whatever the county did. He then questioned whether a 70 percent abatement would be sufficient for Chermac, to which McAlpine indicted that Chermac could certainly look at those numbers.
As discussions continued, the issue of a “Pilot” project emerged. While details of the difference were not discussed, it appeared that Chermac’s payments to the county would be based on the Megawatts of energy produced, resulting in a larger payment to the county.
McAlpine said that the Randall County project was not built on that model, but he did not rule out the possibility of considering that.
With uncertainty in the court’s chamber, Dyer made a motion to table the item. Robinson seconded the motion. When the vote was cast, the motion failed 2-3 with only Dyer and Robinson voting in support.
Benton then made a motion to accept the 80 percent abatement proposed and proceed with the project.
Robinson seconded that motion. It too failed, 2-3 with Benton and Robinson voting in support.
Houdashell made a motion to continue negotiations on the basis of a Pilot program and bring it back to the court at their next regular meeting in two weeks.
Dyer seconded the motion, which failed 2-3 on voting, with Houdashell and DeFord voting in favor.
As the court prepared to move on to the next agenda item, one of the property owners was granted permission to make a comment. He scolded the court, saying “You’ve set back wind energy in Randall County.”
As the court members prepared to go into a closed session “to deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property,” Houdashell noted that the court could certainly call a special meeting, if needed, to revise and perhaps reach an agreement. That has since been scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow in the commissioners’ court chamber on the third floor of the county finance building.
In other business, the court reappointed Stan Cranmer to a two-year term as the county road and bridge superintendent, a position he has now held for 10 years. They also approved $2,338,786.08 in vouchers and approved bonds for the newly elected/
reelected county officials.