A bus loaded with 51 residents from Floyd County and the surrounding area pulled away from the Floydada Economic Development Corp. on Monday morning, headed for a wind energy tour here.
The tour of the wind farms in the Sweetwater area was put together by the Floydada EDC.
Those on the bus came back to Floydada with two messages: in order for wind energy to succeed in this area the region must gain access to a transmission line, and landowners should work together to provide acreage for the wind projects.
The initiative to bring wind energy to the region is being led, in large part, by Dora Ross, director of the Floydada EDC. She and her board hosted a public meeting on the subject in Muncy in September.
At that meeting, area residents heard from Lisa Chavarria, a lawyer from Austin who not only has written extensively about wind energy but also handles legal issues related to wind energy.
As part of that meeting, Mrs. Ross suggested that interested people sign up for a bus tour of the Sweetwater area to gain more information about the wind energy industry and the economic benefits it could bring to the area.
That tour materialized Monday.
Once the group arrived in Sweetwater, tour guide Greg Wortham, executive director of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium, described the impact of the industry on the Sweetwater area, in particular, Nolan County.
As the bus drove past miles upon miles of wind turbines, he talked of the tax benefits for the school districts in the counties that had been able to establish wind farms and the jobs created in those counties (Both of those topics will be the subject of future articles later this week).
However, the key thing which Wortham talked about was the need to have a transmission line with which to link in order to move the energy to consumers across the state.
Sweetwater, Nolan County and the surrounding area benefit from the fact that the area is located right under the transmission line that runs near I-20.
The problem facing the South Plains, according to Mrs. Ross, is that there is no transmission line in this area.
Wortham explained that the Texas Panhandle gets its power from the Southwest Power Loop that runs through states such as Colorado and Oklahoma.
On Friday, a meeting will be held in Austin with the Public Utilities Commission in which officials will address the need to construct a new transmission line for this region.
Two routes for that line have been proposed – one which would run, roughly, from Oklaunion through Vernon and Pampa, and one that would run from Graham through Spur, Matador and Turkey.
Mrs. Ross explained to the group that if the line runs through the northern route, the counties surrounding Floydada (including Hale County) would not have access to that line. She said that in general terms, wind farms need to be within 50 miles of the line in order to tie into it.
However, she said, if the line takes the southern route, all of those counties – which include Floyd, Hale, Motley, Swisher, Briscoe and Dickens – would be able to get either direct access to it or access through a smaller transmission line which could be constructed once its need was confirmed.
For that reason, Mrs. Ross is headed to Austin on Friday with the intention of getting on the docket to speak.
She hopes that when she gets there she will have the support of legislators from the South Plains, as well as community leaders who she is encouraging to call those legislators.
She said she intends to tell the PUC that economics and wind should determine the route of the transmission line, not politics. However, she acknowledged that politics will play a very significant role in the decision.
“If the placement of the line is driven by the economics and wind, it needs to go through Spur,” she said.
That being said, she told those on the tour, many of whom have already been approached by development companies, “If we don’t have the transmission lines, we don’t need to sign (leases) with anybody.”
In the meantime, Wortham said, area landowners need to understand the issues facing them.
He acknowledged that when compared to royalties from other sources of energy, wind energy royalties are low – usually 4 or 5 percent. However, he continued, those are tied to the cost of construction of wind farms and developers are not going to go very high because of the capital-intensive nature of wind project construction.
A second factor key to those numbers is the availability of suitable land, not just in the region but in the state.
“It’s not about getting cheated, it’s about being realistic. We’ve got to know what our true negotiating powers are,” Wortham said.
“We can say we want 6 or we want 8 (percent) and eventually they’ll say, “˜OK, we want Kansas,’ “ he added.
Wortham cited mistakes made by communities, school districts and landowners in the Sweetwater area who refused to work with the wind energy developers and were left behind.
“One hundred percent of zero is zero,” he said to laughs from those on the tour.
While it is important for landowners to understand the dynamics of the situation with which they are confronted, Wortham said it is equally important for them to understand that negotiations are best left to lawyers who will have access to information that individuals will not have and cannot get.
In this instance, he said, “Spend the money on a lawyer.”
An option being considered by the Floydada EDC is to find an equitable way for landowners in the six-county area surrounding the community to pool between 100,000 and 200,000 contiguous acres to present to developers for projects.
In the meantime, Mrs. Ross said, between now and Friday area residents should contact state legislators such as Pete Laney and Robert Duncan and encourage them to fight for the southern route for the proposed transmission line.
For more information, contact Dora Ross at the Floydada Economic Development Corp., 806-983-3318.
By Richard Porter, Herald Staff Writer, From the Plainview Daily Herald
(Contact Richard Porter at 806-296-1352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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