The Pawnee community in North Bee County is becoming an alternative energy hotspot thanks to multinational green energy company Orsted, which is based in Denmark
The company is the parent of Helena Wind LLC, which is erecting 60 wind turbines – 48 in the Pawnee Independent School District, 12 in Pettus ISD – that will produce 252 megawatts of electricity. The wind farm is located within a reinvestment zone established in 2020, which now will include the Sparta Solar Center. The Pawnee ISD board of trustees, at its March 9 meeting, voted 5-2 in favor of the solar center’s Chapter 313 tax value limitation agreement.
Superintendent Michelle Hartmann said following the meeting that board members Pete Dobson and Jennifer Card cast the dissenting votes.
Jennifer Goodwillie, Orsted’s senior development director, said the Sparta Solar Park will be located on County Road 121 west of the intersection of County Road 115, approximately five miles south of Pawnee. The property has a total area of about 2,500 acres, but she said solar panels will not occupy the entire space due to oil equipment and the 100-year flood plain.
“The Sparta Solar Center will comprise 600,000 monocrystalline PV panels mounted on long arrays that track the sun, with a peak output of 250 megawatts, producing 550,000 megawatt hours a year,” Goodwillie said. “To provide context, this is roughly the amount of power 50,000 homes consume over the course of a year.”
The solar farm will be connected to the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas’ transmission system, providing power for customers throughout the state, she said. Typically, a solar project has a 25-30-year lifespan. If it is not repowered and the panels upgraded, the land will be returned to its original use with little to no impact.
Pending the final investment decision from Orsted’s board of directors, construction on the Sparta Solar Center is expected to begin in April and take 12-24 months to complete. An estimated 300 construction jobs will be created during that time and two permanent employees will be dedicated to its long-term operation.
“The Sparta Solar Center represents a $260 million capital investment in Bee County,” Goodwillie said. “The combined Helena Energy Center includes this capital investment and the wind farm investment for a total investment of nearly half a billion dollars.
“Through the project’s recently approved Chapter 313 agreement, the Sparta Solar Center is estimated to bring millions of dollars to the Pawnee ISD over the first 10 years of its life.”
She added that the new tax revenue will allow Pawnee ISD to make long-term plans and investments in facilities and technology without needing to increase property tax rates.
Also related to alternative energy, the board heard a presentation about the KidWind Project. Hartmann said its training programs enable teachers to teach about wind power through hands-on activities, award-winning tools and a passion for the subject matter.
In late 2020, Orsted and the Helena Wind Farm facilitated training for teachers participating in the program.