GLEN ROSE – $1.868 billion? Or $261 million?
The property value assessment controversy surrounding Luminant’s Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant continued this month as the company once again challenged numbers established by the Somervell County Appraisal District.
However, the Somervell County Appraisal Review Board has soundly rejected Luminant’s request that Comanche Peak’s value be lowered from $1.868 billion to $261 million. This unanimous decision was made during a hearing held Tuesday, Aug. 2.
Luminant apparently disagrees with the board’s decision. Brad Watson, senior director of Corporate Communications for Luminant, said late last week his company is “reviewing” the ruling.
Somervell County representatives, meanwhile, fully expect Luminant to appeal the decision to district court – as the company did when challenging Somervell County’s 2015 valuation.
The 2015 valuation was upheld in district court, but Luminant again appealed the matter to appellate court in Waco, where it is still pending.
What all this means for Somervell County is that all it taxing entities – the county, school, water district and hospital district – will continue in a state of uncertainty as to what their actual tax base can and will be until the issue can be resolved, explained Wes Rollen, chief appraiser of the Somervell Central Appraisal District.
“We are still waiting for the answer to 2015,” Rollen said. “If they appeal (the 2016 valuation) we are going to have to start this entire process over again. … We are trying to get some kind of restoration but there is no telling when that might come.”
Watson – relating Luminant’s side of the story – contends that sharply dropping wholesale power prices in recent years have forced Comanche Peak’s 2016 valuation to a number much lower than the Somervell Central Appraisal District had concluded.
“Comanche Peak’s valuation doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Watson said. “It directly reflects the wholesale power market in Texas. When a plant’s revenue and income fall, the law provides for the property value to follow, just as value will rise if prices rebound.”
Watson said Luminant and its employees have a decades-long record of caring for Somervell County.
“We understand the impact the plant’s value has on local government budgets and that’s why we advised the SCAD the past several years to prepare for a lower value,” Watson said. “As always, we are committed to pay our fair share.”
The unanimous Tuesday, Aug. 2 ruling to uphold the $1.868 billion figure was made by Chairman Gary Whittle, and members Rhonda Cagle and Frank Moates. Board members Jerry Prather and Stan Myers were absent during this meeting.
Altogether, the hearings revolving around the issue lasted over five hours.
During that time, the board addressed a second Luminant-related matter during a closed hearing that was conducted as part of executive session.
It is unclear exactly what was decided, other than a county representative made a protest or request of some kind and the appraisal review board denied it.
Neither the county nor Luminant are willing to discuss what happened in executive session.
“Before the meeting ever got started, they agreed to put the hearing in closed session,” Rollen explained.
“Since the ARB met in an executive session, I won’t comment on that,” Watson said.
Many local officials, including Somervell County Judge Danny L. Chambers, packed ARB chambers during the Aug. 2 hearing.
After it was over, Judge Chambers agreed it is a prudent strategy to prepare for Luminant to appeal the board’s decision.
“Luminant has done this kind of thing throughout the state of Texas – we certainly aren’t the first,” the judge said. “ …But this is ongoing and anything is possible. So you never know.”