A gathering of people in Jacksboro on Monday might go down in the books as an early skirmish in a looming battle that could pit neighbor against neighbor and play out in courtrooms across the region.
The issue is wind.
International companies are scouting the plains and hills, looking for places to put towering turbines to harness the power of wind and convert it into electricity. Several area communities have called town hall meetings to discuss the implications.
Some landowners embrace the giants as an alternative to dwindling oil supplies – and a source of new revenue from land leases.
Others oppose them as noisy, ugly behemoths that will decrease the value of the land rather than decrease dependence on fossil fuel.
Dan Stephenson is one Jack County rancher who fears the coming of the windmills.
He is spokesman for Jack County Concerned Landowners, which formed after an international wind energy corporation began talking with landowners and county officials about finding locations for the big turbines.
The group brought in some high-powered wind energy opponents to speak at a public forum in Jacksboro Monday night.
Stephenson said Wednesday the wind companies “operate stealthily as long as they can.” That means opponents have to “go legal almost immediately.”
He talks in courtroom language.
“When the first tower goes up on a neighbor’s property, you have created in our minds a material damage in terms of what our land is worth,” he said.
He also thinks that wind energy is not a viable energy alternative, but rather an opportunity for wind energy companies to make a lot of money from government subsidies.
“The companies have overstated or oversold the potential of wind energy,” he said, pointing out that wind contributes less than one-half of 1 percent of electricity generation in the U.S.
Stephenson also fears that when wind energy fails to live up to its promise – which he believes will happen – that the land will be littered with idled turbines.
“They’re already backing off of wind in Europe,” he said.
Stephenson’s group also claims there’s not enough wind in North Central Texas to operate the generators.
Proponents and opponents of wind energy agree the region has a wind rating of 3 on a seven point scale that the wind energy industry uses as a standard. On that scale, 1 means virtually no wind and 7 means nearly constant wind.
Stephenson calls a 3 rating “marginal.” Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association calls it “moderate.”
“Wind potential often depends on micro-features, such as hills” where the wind potential is greater than in surrounding, lower areas, she said.
She also said turbines are becoming taller and more efficient.
Real de Azua said the latest figures show that wind power is growing, now producing about 0.6 percent of U.S. electricity.
“It’s really taking off. Wind is now the second largest source of new energy after new natural gas plants, she said. “These are viable projects that go forward … there’s income going to the landowners.”
As for making money from subsidies, she noted that all energy sectors get incentives – including the oil and gas industry – and that the overall share of incentives going to wind energy is small.
She said the chance of abandoned turbines being left to litter the landscape is small, too, because their materials – mainly steel – are too valuable to not salvage.
If wind is the new kid on the energy block, it’s welcomed by one of the old residents – oil.
“We support any form of domestic energy over imported energy,” said Alex Mills, president of the Texas Alliance of Energy producers.
He said the only issue oil producers have with wind is a mandate by Texas law that a certain percentage of the state’s electricity be produced by wind and other renewable resources.
“We oppose government monkeying around with the marketplace,” he said.
By Lynn Walker/Times Record News
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