A room full of protestors attended the Hamilton Independent School District board of directors meeting Monday to speak out against a wind farm application.
However, the application has not yet been received by the district.
The board was to consider an application for an appraised value limitation on qualified property pursuant to Chapter 313 of the Texas Tax Code and authorize the superintendent to grant any required extension to the 150-day period in which to take on the application, subject to ratification by the board.
“Until a few weeks ago I had never heard of 313, but it’s on the agenda tonight,” said Calvin Friedrich, who lives “out behind Shive” at the foot of Vista Mountain.
“It appears to be a vehicle for school boards to award tax abatements,” he said. “Abatements are not normally granted by school boards because the state will reduce their payments by that amount.
“Here is a company owned by the French government that seeks tax abatement, large incentives being offered by the US government,” Friedrich said. “I’m asking you to say no to tax abatement and no to Forum 313. I want the turbine company to pay the same tax that I pay on my property.
“We moved here in 2002 and built a home on the place my wife inherited from her parents who bought it in 1948,” he said. “We built a new house, added acreage. If I had known I could get a tax abatement, that would have helped my tax bill, but I do pay my fair share.”
“My wife and I have property in one of the tracts proposed for building one of these turbines,” said Scott Walters. “We’re opposed to it.
“Nineteen years ago, we began looking around the country for a place to move,” he said. “We considered New Mexico, but after looking here, this place appealed to us. Had we known we would only have 19 years until these wind turbines were going to come up, we would have said no and moved somewhere else.
“We have done a lot of careful research,” Walters said. “We considered alternative energy on our property – we considered wind turbines and solar. Wind turbines were especially negative. If you were to take the money out of it that the school district gets and look at all the factors involved, I suspect it would not appeal to you as much as the money.
“Many of us are working hard on this, studying, getting as up-to-date as we can to see how it will impact our community. To me, the money is not worth it. I hope you will vote to reject this application.”
“I live on the back side of Shive too,” said Kimberly McCullough. “I bought the place 13 years ago… I thought Hamilton was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. So much so that for 14 years I commuted from New York City to Hamilton.
“In 2009 I went from living in a trailer to living in a home. I used 35 Hamilton contractors. My school taxes went from $173 to $3148.”
McCullough said she had two neighbors who also built houses. Prior to building their houses, the three had combined taxes of $678, but now together pay $11,007.
“Each of us are opposed to wind farms,” she said. “I guarantee you we would have never considered coming to Hamilton and putting resources into homes we love.
“Each of us is involved in the community. We have a high fence ranch, and our guests stay in local hotels and eat in local restaurants. We all participate in this community and have friends we are close to here. We feel a part of this community and don’t feel like a state-owned company from France will be as participatory in this community as we have been.
“The wind turbines will affect generations to come,” she said. “In the event they become economically unfeasible, there is no bond they will secure to decommission those turbines. They would not be producing, and we would still have to look at them.
“And I’m concerned about the fires they create,” she said. “Those 500-foot turbines are placed on the highest vistas, and the fire department doesn’t get additional funds from these French companies and will have the burden of putting out potential fires.
“The insurance company said fires and equipment failure are very common; 250 gallons of flammable fuel in the cabins throw out fireballs, and our fire departments will be at the mercy of putting those fires out in winds up to 25 to 30 miles per hour.
“Plus, property values will drop 30 to 40 percent. People don’t want to come from the city to see what looks like citified structures,” McCullough said. “That will have a net effect on the ISD. If three of us came to $11,000, if we cut off the tap from the city, people won’t come here to buy land and build houses. They will go to the beautiful scenery.”
McCullough encouraged the board to use her as a resource, even offered to make a donation to stave off the wind farms, “so we can leave Hamilton as a hometown should be.”
Sara Leon of Powell and Leon LLP would provide legal counsel to the district should the board decide to move in that direction.
“First, you don’t have an application to act on,” she said. “I’m here for information.”
Leon encouraged the board to approve a local board policy to be prepared when they do receive an application. She said the company that intended to submit an application had been delayed and was not ready for submission.
“You would need a policy in place if someone brought an application forward,” Leon said. “I suggest regardless of which way you go you go ahead and have a policy in your manual. It is handy to have, and (Texas Association of School Boards) does not provide that. The policy follows the comptroller’s rules.”
Leon also recommend a conflict of interest policy, and the board approved the local policy as well as the conflict of interest policy.
“313 is not actually a tax abatement,” she said. “It is a value limitation agreement, a contract between the company, state and school district. The contract makes the school district harmless for any loss of state revenue. The school district would not lose a penny by approving the agreement. The third party, the state, would assume any losses.
“This is intended to incentivize industrial and energy development in the state of Texas,” she said. “The school district would be entitled to annual payments from the company in addition to property taxes. It only affects the M&O side, and the I&S side would tax the project at full value, and we anticipate the project to be in the hundreds of millions and full value will be available for taxing.
“You are guaranteed not to lose a penny in local revenue,” Leon said. “The application will include the number of turbines, value, number of jobs created and temporary jobs, then the school board can review it for 150 days. Ask the comptroller to look at the application. It is a 25-year commitment. They decide if over that period the project will pay back every cent of the incentive.
“Secondly, we work with Region 12 regarding finances and have them run a simulation of what the project means to school district revenue. Then we come back and present that to you.
“Then you would have a public hearing to get input from the community.
“Things like fire prevention and other things not directly relevant to taxation can be discussed in that context.”
Leon added that on one project she represented, the capacity of the fire department was questioned, and the company worked with the department and gave them the resources, equipment and training to be able to respond to such a fire.
“After all the steps are gone though, the board would then decide whether or not to grant the tax abatement.”
Darrell Kachilla from the audience asked Leon, “What is the lifetime of the turbines, and are they required to take them down after?”
Leon said generally they don’t build the turbines until they have committed to providing a certain amount of energy.
“They won’t even put a turbine in until they have sold the energy,” she said. “They have to have them in service for 25 years. They are compelled to keep them going.”
“What happens when they are done?” Kachilla asked.
“The property owners will negotiate what will happen to them.”
“If we say no, will they just work around us?” asked new board member Keith Gatewood.
“They wouldn’t be economically viable without the 313,” Leon said.
“I feel as a board that we are obligated to engage in order to get information on this whole project in order to figure out whether it is viable,” said trustee Dr. Randy Lee. “I think it is wise to have the amended board policy, not just specific to this one project. And I certainly hear the concerns of the people present here.”
In addition to approving the local policy and conflict of interest policy, the board engaged Powell and Leon, Jigsaw Consulting and Walch Educational Consulting should the application be received.