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Wind farm proposal stirs storm in Kenedy

The hearing to discuss a tax abatement sought by the developers drew more than 100 people, roughly a quarter of the county's population.

SARITA — What could be the first large wind energy project to be built on the Texas Gulf Coast ran into some local squalls in Kenedy County at a three-hour public hearing Monday.

The project, backed by utility giant Scottish Power, would place 267 wind turbines, each capable of generating 440 megawatts of energy, along the eastern edge of the fabled 400,000-acre Kenedy Ranch.

The hearing to discuss a tax abatement sought by the developers drew more than 100 people, roughly a quarter of the county's population.
And while the project appears to have the backing of most county commissioners, most of the residents who spoke opposed it on grounds such as wildlife protection and tax policy.

"If the county provides this abatement, it will be providing a very dangerous precedent. We need to understand a lot more about wind power and this project before we consider this," said Jack Hunt, CEO of the King Ranch, which owns 230,000 acres in Kenedy County.
Hunt argued that, by giving the 10-year abatement, the county would be throwing away hundreds of millions of tax dollars it would otherwise collect.

Developers of the $440 million project say it will provide a clean source of... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
SARITA — What could be the first large wind energy project to be built on the Texas Gulf Coast ran into some local squalls in Kenedy County at a three-hour public hearing Monday.

The project, backed by utility giant Scottish Power, would place 267 wind turbines, each capable of generating 440 megawatts of energy, along the eastern edge of the fabled 400,000-acre Kenedy Ranch.

The hearing to discuss a tax abatement sought by the developers drew more than 100 people, roughly a quarter of the county's population.
And while the project appears to have the backing of most county commissioners, most of the residents who spoke opposed it on grounds such as wildlife protection and tax policy.

"If the county provides this abatement, it will be providing a very dangerous precedent. We need to understand a lot more about wind power and this project before we consider this," said Jack Hunt, CEO of the King Ranch, which owns 230,000 acres in Kenedy County.
Hunt argued that, by giving the 10-year abatement, the county would be throwing away hundreds of millions of tax dollars it would otherwise collect.

Developers of the $440 million project say it will provide a clean source of electricity and replenish the county tax base, which is now dependent on oil and gas production.

Under the proposed abatement, which is still in negotiation, the developers would pay the county and school district between $12 million and $15 million over 10 years. After that, the project, to be built on land leased from the John G. Kenedy Charitable Trust, would be fully taxed.

"We want to be a contributing member of the Kenedy County tax base. This project would technically double the tax base for this county," said Mannti Cummins, a partner in the development.

"We're not here asking for a handout. Every wind farm we're going to compete against in Texas will have these tax abatements," he said.
If it gets a speedy go-ahead from the county, the first phase of the project could be producing electricity a year from now, with the second phase due in late 2007, Cummins said.

But speakers from organizations ranging from Ducks Unlimited to Audubon Texas showed little enthusiasm for a thicket of 370-foot towers along the Laguna Madre.

Among the fears expressed were the slaughter of migratory bats and birds and the defacement of one of Texas's least disturbed areas.
"I've been coming down here since 1957 to do bird watching," said Victor Emmanuel of Austin. "There will be tremendous carnage if we have these wind towers."

The area is unique, said Ramona Bass, a sixth generation South Texan, adding, "It is wild. It is beautiful, and we are taking a huge risk with this project."

Others questioned the tax abatement, details of which remain unknown even to some of the commissioners being asked to vote on it.

"We're going to vote on something that no one in the room will admit to seeing?" asked Caroline Forgason of San Antonio.

A pair of speakers, however, favored wind energy and urged the commissioners to weigh the project carefully.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen in Austin, said wind is the future for Texas energy production and praised the developers for their ongoing studies of bird migration through the area.

"As an environmentalist and a consumer, this offers a chance for Texas to generate extremely low-cost power and with no pollution," Smith said.

Marc Cisneros, CEO of the Kenedy Memorial Foundation, a charity that controls the northern portion of the Kenedy Ranch, said an agreement already has been signed for another large wind farm there.

He said both the foundation and the John G. Kenedy Charitable Trust will lose the means to support numerous good causes without new sources of revenue.

"We went through a lot of heart-searching at the foundation, and we do support wind energy," Cisneros said.

County Judge J. A. Garcia and two others support the project. Since one commissioner was absent, the matter was not put to a vote Monday.

A motion by Commissioner Anne Armstrong to table the abatement plan for six months to await changes in state property tax law failed on a 2-2 vote.

Garcia then reset the matter for a Friday morning meeting, prompting complaints from Armstrong.

"I can't believe you think we can learn what we need to know in four days," she said. "The county attorney hasn't even seen the agreement. The taxpayers and voters deserve to see hard figures."

Source: http://www.mysanantonio.com...

DEC 13 2005
http://www.windaction.org/posts/680-wind-farm-proposal-stirs-storm-in-kenedy
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