Not unlike the changing breezes, the range of opinions among landowners in north-central Gillespie County about a proposed wind farm in their neck of the woods varies depending on who’s doing the talking.
Some have voiced concerns; others rather like the idea and others aren’t so sure one way or the other.
One of those who this week says he is seriously considering signing a lease agreement allowing wind generators to be erected on his land north of Fredericksburg is Kenneth Shilkun.
“From what I can tell, the merits outweigh the demerits,” said Shilkun whose property is located two miles south of Enchanted Rock just east of RM 965.
What Shilkun is referring to is a rectangular area north of town near the Gillespie-Llano county line that stretches generally between U.S. 87 North and RM 965.
According to landowners in that part of the county, an international company known as AES Wind Generation has been contacting them over the past year about the possibility of setting up wind turbines on their properties.
Meanwhile, AES is also in the process of testing the wind in that part of the county to determine if a wind farm would be practical.
Contacted early last week by the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post for more information about the project, AES has not yet responded to that request.
However, Shilkun said Friday that he was willing to share whatever information he has received from AES, which currently operates 600 megawatts of wind facilities and is pursuing another 2,000 MW of wind projects in development, primarily in the U.S.
According to an AES fact sheet, the company has a presence in 25 countries on five continents and since its acquisition of Sea West in 2005 has entered the U.S. wind generation market.
The company has a foothold in two U.S. markets – Texas and California – that reportedly have 50 percent of the installed megawatts in the country. In Texas at Buffalo Gap – AES’ 120 MW wind farm near Abilene – commercial operation began in 2006, with its entire output for 15 years being already contracted for by a major utility.
In Gillespie County, Shilkun said Friday that he is encouraged by what he has so far learned about the proposed project here.
“At this point, it looks like a win-win situation for everybody,” he said.
One of the plus-factors Shilkun sees with a wind farm here is compatibility.
“It is appropriate for landowners to consider wind power as providing a “˜second crop’ because it is so compatible with pre-existing land uses,” stated a landowner fact sheet Shilkun received from AES. “Farming, grazing, oil and gas extraction, and many other land uses can continue uninterrupted in and around wind power facilities.”
AES points out that the actual footprint of a wind project is just one to two acres per megawatt of generating capacity.
“This area is primarily comprised of the compacted gravel access road which can be available to the landowner to access his or her property during the project’s useful life and thereafter,” the fact sheet read.
Also mentioned are financial rewards for landowners.
“Each MW of capacity can provide landowner royalties well in excess of $2,000 per year, far exceeding the actual value of the land used, year after year,” the AES fact sheet said. “Depending on the size of the land parcel and the capacity installed there, wind power can provide a very significant source of additional annual revenue.”
AES has told landowners like Shilkun that, once it has been determined that a site has a strong wind resource, other factors must be addressed, like proximity to a transmission line, access to public roads and a buyer for the power to be generated by the wind turbines.
The typical development cycle for a wind energy project is a minimum of three years, said AES.
First, on-site energy resource monitoring can frequently take well over a year, then permitting can require time ranging from just a few months in areas with minimal permitting requirements and concerns to two years for some projects where permitting requirements are very extensive. Finally, the procurement, manufacture and construction process usually requires 12-14 months, AES reported.
In the end, the time necessary for AES crews to actually build a wind project on site is usually four to six months.
Typically, AES says wind turbines are spaced two to three rotor diameters apart within rows (side by side) and 8-to-12 rotor diameters apart between rows.
In response to concerns voiced by some over wind generation projects, AES contends that electro magnetic frequency emissions have not been noted as a problem.
“Generation voltages are typically 600 volts with the collection system situated underground and well insulted,” stated the company’s fact sheet.
Regarding noise concerns, AES pointed that, while some older wind energy projects did emit noise at a level that was monitored for permitting purposes, today’s wind turbines are much quieter.
“The wind itself is noisier and the sound of a wind turbine whose decibel emission level is lower than that of a car passing down a residential street some distance away,” AES stated.
With regard to those in Gillespie County who have voiced concerns about wind turbines spoiling the Texas Hill Country’s scenic views, AES stated that this concern “is resolved through the permitting process.”
“Often times, wind turbines are set back from scenic corridors to avoid any negative impacts,” the fact sheet read. “Additionally, with the density of development (being) greatly reduced due to size and spacing requirements, visual concerns can usually be avoided.”
Another concern cited in the past over wind farms has had to do with bird life.
“Some early wind turbines have posed danger to birds,” AES said but those problems have been resolved through several measures. “Today, wind turbines are sited outside of documented bird flight paths and use areas.”
AES pointed to highly reflective coatings on turbine airfoils and much slower rotational speeds as being steps taken to increase visibility of birds to moving objects. Also, it said tubular steel towers and underground collection systems have helped eliminate perching opportunities that had existed with lattice towers and above-ground facilities near moving rotors.
Shilkun said that the willingness of the wind generation industry to work with landowners, state governments, county governments and environmental groups is well-documented. And, he added, environmental and conservation communities endorse wind power generation.
“I think that the wind farm proposed here will provide needed energy, money and will pay local taxes,” he said Friday. “And, anything that I can do to decrease my carbon footprint is the thing to do.”
2 May 2007
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