Willacy County has a reputation as a farming region of the state. Thousands of acres of land contain sugarcane and sorghum, cotton, corn and sesame seeds. One can drive for miles and miles and see nothing but fields covered with crops during the growing season.
But in the last 10 years, one thing has drastically been changing the rural landscape in Willacy and parts of Cameron County. It is the proliferation of wind farms.
The wind farm turbines are visible along I-69 near Raymondville along Texas Highway 186. They can be seen east off of FM 1430 in the Santa Monica/Willamar area. In Cameron County, dozens of wind turbines are along FM 1847 near Rio Hondo as part of the Altas Palmas Wind Farm. There are more off of FM 510 around the Bayview area at the San Roman Wind Farm. Even more are around Rio Hondo. These windmills generate the so-called green energy to power homes as far as San Antonio and Austin.
The two companies received a break in taxes, or abatements, during the life span or over a 25-year agreement. E-ON received a 75-percent tax abatement for the first 10 years. Duke received an 85-percent abatement that includes extra money to the county in lieu of taxes, or $270,000.
Wind farms helping counties flourish
Raymondville ISD Superintendent Stetson Roane says the development of wind farms in Willacy County has been a tremendous benefit. He said that, through negotiations with their legal counsel, the wind farm companies are required to indemnify the district against any loss of funds earmarked for education. The district has received more than a $1 million and will get an additional $2.1 million over the lifetime of the agreement.
“These wind farms provide clean energy and revenue to help Willacy County flourish,” he said. “Raymondville and Willacy County are leading the way in clean energy.”
As far as taxes, E-ON and Duke Energy have generated about $1 million in tax revenue across the county. In San Perlita, E-ON’s two wind farms pump about $75,000 a year into one of the smallest school districts in the Rio Grande Valley. E-ON also donated about $115,000 to the Willacy County Emergency Medical Services to buy much needed equipment.
Rich Saunders, a spokesman with E-ON, said a wind farm such as theirs contributes to a county like Willacy.
“We estimate that $7.2 million was spent locally,” he said during an EMS donation presentation. “We hired about 40 percent of the labor force from the Valley.”
Figures from Cameron County show the wind farms’ effects. In Cameron, the four wind farms in operation generate more than $6.1 million in salaries alone. Additionally, the county’s tax base, road and bridge and drainage districts, and the area school districts get another $114 million annually.
Mark Yates, the office director, says green power projects are great investments.
“We are in an area where there is a lot of wind,” he said. “These wind farms create jobs and benefit other entities like the school districts.”