After introducing themselves to the public at a Sept. 24 forum, Brownwood High School’s Ag Issues Forum team has developed a presentation on the controversial topic of wind energy.
The team is making local presentations as it prepares for yearly competition.
Team members Austin Haynes, Emily Chapa, Tanner Roberts, Trinitee Skelton, Rylah Morgan, Hunter Day and Aubrey Kirk have put together a 15-minute presentation in which moderator Haynes introduces the topic. The other six team members, working off a script they’ve written, present pros and cons of wind turbine farms receiving tax abatements and being developed in Brown County.
This year, the team is introducing a bit of a twist: team members are portraying real-life community members and representatives of Chermac Energy, the American Wind Energy Association and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Moderator Haynes portrays his father, Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes.
Although the actual setting is before audience members or competition judges, the team portrays itself as speaking at a forum.
The team has given its presentation to groups including the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce and the USDA. The team will give presentations at invitational competitions in Stephenville on Nov. 1 and Weatherford a day later.
District competition will be Nov. 5 in Hamilton. The top two teams will advance to Area competition in a bid to reach State and Nationals competition.
In a Brownwood High School classroom recently, the team gave a practice presentation.
Chapa, a senior, said the wind turbines topic “just came to us because it’s a big issue that’s happening right now. The Brown County commissioners are going to have to decide whether they’re going to do tax abatements. Wind turbines make money only on tax abatements. The whole point about this presentation is to spread awareness about wind turbines.”
Chapa said team members talked to representatives of numerous entities including the Blanket school district, which received an $832,756 payment last year as part of an agreement with Logan’s Gap Wind Farm. The farm is a 24,000-acre project in Comanche County that includes 13 wind turbines on Blanket school district property.
Other entities team members talked with included Chermac Energy, which is leasing land in southern Brown County for a potential wind farm location.
“Wind turbines impact everyone, even outside our county,” Chapa said, adding that they affect money, aesthetics and “everything (residents) know about country life.”
Skelton, a junior, said, “I would say our topic chose us.”
She said memorizing the script is not as difficult as it might seem. “What’s hard about it is trying to make it like an actual conversation,” Skelton said.
Kirk, a junior, said the controversial nature of the topic “helps us in the long run, just in the sense that we are getting so many people’s perspective because they are so passionate about them.”
The team began its presentation, with ag teacher Chelsea Wilson reading the part of Austin Haynes, who was not present.
In the presentation, moderator Haynes, portraying his father and Brownwood’s mayor, welcomes the audience to the forum, saying the purpose is “to allow our citizens and our elected officials to hear from both sides of the wind farm debate. As you listen to the argument, decide for yourself, should Brown County give tax abatements to wind farm companies?”
Team member Day, a sophomore, provides background, saying, “In 1999, wind energy was at its infancy in Texas. … As the power companies built transmission lines from the plains of West Texas to the power grids of Austin, everywhere in between became a target for wind companies due to the ease of getting production into the power grid. One of those transmission lines runs through the heart of Brown County.”
Chapa explains that wind energy has “exploded primary due to federal tax credits. Federal tax credits and special provisions for depreciation offset a large portion of the cost of construction. Those tax credits are set to expire in 2019, and with a Republican controlled Congress, there is fear the subsidies which were originally proposed by Democrats will not be continued.”
Kirk adds that wind farms have commonly sought local tax abatements in addition to federal tax credits. Since Texas has no income tax, wind energy companies can avoid all state and local taxes, other than school taxes which cannot be abated, Kirk says.
“Is the abatement of local taxes a good thing for the future of our county?” Kirk asks.
Haynes then introduces the “guests,” who are portrayed by team members:
• Wind farm proponents Patricia Miller (property owner), Betsy Beck (American Wind Energy Association) and Jaime McAlpine (Chermac Energy).
• Wind farm opponents Lisa Linowes (Texas Public Policy Foundation), Teresa Stephens (real estate broker) and Scott Killingsworth (property owner).