By Richard Porter, Herald Agriculture Editor
MUNCY – More than 200 people from across the region gathered at the Friends Unity Center between Floydada and Lockney to hear a presentation on wind energy Monday night.
Featured speaker at the meeting, which was sponsored by the Floydada Economic Development Corporation, was Lisa Chavarria, an attorney with McElroy, Sullivan and Miller in Austin who specializes in wind energy contracts.
Ms. Chavarria explained that she is aware of seven development companies seeking leases in the area. Those companies are large, well-established and well-financed, and that is a good sign, she said.
The purpose behind Ms. Chavarria’s presentation was to help local and area landowners know how to go about establishing leases.
The area is at a critical stage, she said, because development in Texas is moving rapidly in anticipation of expanding reliance on alternative sources of energy.
Ms. Chavarria explained that in 2005 the legislature laid the ground work for the establishment of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones. These are areas with sufficient resources to develop generating capacity for wind energy. The area consisting of parts of Floyd, Briscoe, Swisher, Armstrong, Motley and Dickens counties tentatively has been designated as CREZ Area 2.
She said that area is particularly attractive because of its wind capacity factor. That is the actual energy of a wind turbine’s output divided by the energy output if the turbine was able to operate at full capacity for the entire year.
A reasonable capacity factor is 25 to 30 percent, she said.
Zone 2 could have a factor as high as 46 percent and it is estimated that the zone could provide 4,179 megawatts of energy with a capacity factor higher than 40 percent.
Ms. Chavarria said that the advantage to being designated as a CREZ is that once that is done, transmission capabilities can be established in anticipation of wind project development.
That is critical because the industry is in a highly-competitive stage.
However, that pressure is the very thing that makes it vital for landowners to educate themselves before entering negotiations, she said.
One of the most critical things Ms. Chavarria discussed was the need to understand the obstacles development companies face in moving forward with wind projects.
First among those was a shortage of turbines. They are in high demand and the shortage is driving up the price.
She said landowners should find out how many projects developers have planned and if they have an existing supply of turbines or are going to have to order more.
She said it also is important to make sure developers have established the capacity to actually sell the electricity once it is generated.
As part of her presentation and later in response to several related questions, Ms. Chavarria said landowners should do their best to work with their neighbors so one doesn’t end up isolated with a different developer in the midst of a larger project. All things being equal, developers like contiguous acres, she said.
In response to questions about the number of acres needed and the spacing of the turbines, which have a life expectancy of approximately 25 years, she said acreage requirements depended on a number of factors, including terrain. She cited as an example that in some instances a 100-megawatt project could require 12,000 acres.
An audience member said spacing of turbines within rows usually required two blade lengths of separation while spacing between rows required 10.
Other issues of concern were impact of wind farms on established hunting leases and possible conflicts with oil and gas leases.
In regard to landowners who have income from leased hunting rights, Ms. Chavarria said most development companies will agree to reimburse the loss. However, that has to be negotiated into the lease agreement.
The only time there is a problem, she said, is during construction when workers will actually be in the field. In most instances, landowners simply notify the development company for safety reasons and proceed from there.
On the issue of conflicts between types of energy leases, Ms. Chavarria said there are no laws in Texas that prohibit landowners from having oil and gas leases as well as ones for wind energy. However, there are location restrictions that have to be considered to protect the structural integrity of the actual oil and gas wells.
Again, she said, that can be worked out.
For the Economic Development Corporation’s part, director Dora Ross said she was encouraged by the level of activity in the area. Mrs. Ross has been in contact with business and industry leaders involved in work near Sweetwater and is excited by what she has learned.
In introducing the topic for the evening, Mrs. Ross pointed out that in addition to creating electricity, wind energy projects create local tax revenue.
She also pointed out all of the related jobs that projects could generate and the number of workers that could be brought into the area.
Construction alone can bring up to 300 people to the region, temporarily. Once the project is complete, an average of one employee for every 10 turbines is needed just for maintenance. Salaries start at around $30,000 and go up from there, she said.
She encouraged those in attendance to consider taking a bus tour to Sweetwater to learn more about the work being done there.
Following the meeting, Mrs. Ross said the response was very positive.
In fact, she said, many of those in attendance suggested a need for followup meetings so landowners could pursue the creation of a CREZ.
Mrs. Ross said anyone with questions about wind energy could contact her at 983-3318. Also, they could find information on wind energy at the West Texas A&M wind energy website: www.windenergy.org
(Contact Richard Porter at 806-296-1361.)
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