An elemental force that can cause aggravation and destruction has long been a feature of the Texas Panhandle, but its potential as an energy resource has only recently been recognized.
Wind is joining oil and gas as a marketable power source. For almost two years, Texas has been the top wind producer in the United States, according to the Texas State Energy Conservation Office.
New and existing companies have begun to harness the wind’s power to generate electricity by signing agreements with landowners and constructing wind farms, including several in the Panhandle.
Airtricity, a company based in Ireland, is one such company. More than 100 landowners in Gray County have signed agreements with Airtricity to allow the company to install electricity-generating windmills on their land, according to records on file in the county clerk’s office.
Raymond Barrett has signed a contract with Airtricity concerning a quarter-section of land he owns in the Grandview area south of Pampa. The agreement gives Airtricity the right to do testing and to construct a wind farm on the land, and it is valid for 33 years, Barrett said.
He will receive a percentage of the value of any power generated from any Airtricity windmills on his land, beginning with four percent of gross income the first year, five percent the second year, and increasing to 10 percent, he said.
James McCracken and Joe Wheeley have signed similar agreements with Airtricity.
“They’re interested in an area along Interstate 40 and north,” McCracken said. “They sound promising. I signed an agreement a month ago.”
Airtricity has not yet taken action concerning the contracts.
“It’s going to be another year before they start developing anything, I think,” McCracken said. “To me, of the companies I’ve talked to, this looks the most promising.”
McCracken’s contract, like Barrett’s, is for 33 years with the same percentage of gross profits to be paid to him. His agreement with Airtricity concerns several small parcels of land, he said.
“I have not been contacted since our original meeting a year ago or more,” said Wheeley. “Several of my neighbors signed with them.”
Wheeley’s land, which may become part of Airtricity’s wind farm, is included in the area north of Interstate 40 which is the company’s point of interest. “The original plan was for an area along Interstate 40. The area is along Highway 70 north to the first major drainages, Davis Road or thereabouts,” he said. “Then west to the county line.”
Some Gray County landowners have been contacted by more than one wind energy company.
“They’re supposed to send me a contract for land I have north of Pampa and southwest of Pampa,” Barrett said of PPM Energy, a ScottishPower company with offices in Canada. “T. Boone Pickens is also getting involved with his company, Mesa.”
CPV Wind Ventures may be furthest along the road to developing a wind energy farm in Gray County. The Massachusetts-based company has received tax abatements from Donley and Gray counties for a wind farm it plans to build along an area near Highway 70.
Selling wind-generated electricity requires a way to transmit that power from its source to the customers. Airtricity is also involved in this stage of the process by taking part in a consortium of five companies which are planning an electricity transmission loop in the Panhandle.
The Panhandle Loop will be an 800-mile transmission line which will carry 4,200 megawatts of wind energy-generated electricity, enough to supply more than one million homes, according to Airtricity’s Web site.
The Loop will cost $1.5 billion to construct and will carry electricity from the Panhandle to cities south of Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin, according to the Web site of Renewable Choice, an energy company specializing in renewable power sources.
Other companies included in the consortium are Babcock and Brown Renewable Holdings Inc., Celanese Ltd., Occidental Energy Ventures Corp. and Sharyland Utilities, L.P.
“The reason we’re involved in this project is we’ve announced we’re looking for strategic alternatives for the Pampa plant,” said Jeremy Neuhart, manager of external communications in Celanese’ Dallas office. “Our involvement in the Panhandle Loop is a way to get involved in one of those strategic alternatives.”
Celanese’s involvement in the project has so far included contact with the Public Utility Commission in Austin and “talking about the project and lending our support,” Neuhart said.
The proposed Panhandle Loop has not yet earned the recommendation of T. Brian Almon, director of electric transmission oversight for the Public Utility Commission of Texas, however. In testimony filed April 24, Almon recommended that an area which includes Gray County, with the exception of the southeastern corner, use the Southwest Power Pool for transmission of electrical energy.
“This is his recommendation at this point,” said Terry Hadley, a PUC spokesman. “This is a process ultimately to be decided by the commission.”
Completion of the Panhandle Loop is planned for 2010. The Loop will carry not only 4,200 MW of wind-generated electricity, but an additional 2,000 MW of gas-fired power and 1,800 MW of coal fired power, according to Sharyland Utilities’ Web site.
“The 4,200 MW of wind energy which Airtricity plans to build along the loop will have a major impact on reducing global warming by preventing the release of over six million tons of harmful CO2 emissions from being released into the atmosphere each year,” according to Airtricity’s Web site.
“The country needs another source of energy,” said McCracken.
By Marilyn Power
2 May 2007
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