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Scenic town weighs pros and cons of wind farms

FREDERICKSBURG – Residents of this scenic Hill Country community are split over a California company’s interest in building a field of wind turbines north of town to generate electricity.

Pat Crenwelge is among property owners leaning toward an agreement with AES Wind Generation, which declined to answer questions about its project.

“This is what’s going to help our children keep the land in our family,” Crenwelge said of 800 acres off RR 965 that ancestors settled in the 1800s.

But neighbor Leo Tynan hopes those courted by AES consider the greater community before signing on with a project he fears will deface the natural beauty and devalue land south of Enchanted Rock.

“This concerns a lot of other people, and the aesthetics to the area in general should also be considered,” he said.

They joined about 100 other locals Thursday at a seminar on the mechanics, economics and regulatory aspects of wind-generated electricity.

Greg Snelgrove, Gillespie County’s economic development director, said he called the meeting “to replace speculation with fact.”

The speaker was Terry Argotsinger, a farmer and appraiser who’s become an expert on the topic since a 259-turbine wind farm went up by his Iowa home.

He said climbing wholesale electricity prices and improved turbine efficiencies have enabled power companies to build outside the windy sites they first mined, including the West Texas plains and the Panhandle.

“That’s why you’re seeing this activity,” Argotsinger said.

He said AES is conducting meteorological studies to determine the feasibility of the project in the area roughly bordered by Texas 16 on the east and U.S. 87 on the west.

Power company AES operates in 27 countries and generates 44,000 megawatts of electricity through 120 facilities, according to its Web site.

Texas leads the nation in wind-generated power, topping 3,000 megawatts, said Argotsinger, and many more wind fields are coming nationwide.

“You guys are just getting started,” he said, calling the area’s proximity to transmission lines another drawing card.

He also noted that while winds abound in north and West Texas, additional infrastructure is needed to carry power to urban areas.

Each wind farm must have roads to reach individual turbines, as well as an electrical substation to process raw power and deliver it to the commercial grid, Argotsinger said.

He neither promoted nor criticized the AES project, but urged people to study the issue.

Turbine backers hail them as clean and safe energy sources that reduce reliance on fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions. Critics decry their visual and noise pollution, bird deaths, and what some call disturbing “flickers” from the shadow of moving blades.

Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher said county commissioners lack authority to regulate the project, but may take a position on it in the future.

“We’re all in favor of developing alternative energy sources, but it should be done in appropriate locations,” he said. “People come here to see the natural beauty. They don’t come here to see 400-foot wind turbines.”

Attorney Allen Price, who’s negotiated leases for landowners elsewhere, said they typically pay $8,000 to $15,000 per turbine annually.

While not addressing the AES project, he said, “Typically, for it to be economical to put up the infrastructure, you need to put 40 to 50 turbines in one group.”

He represents a handful of landowners with a total of about 6,000 acres who are weighing leases with AES.

David Shilkun said his family signed an initial option with AES for several tower sites on their 225-acre ranch off RR 965.

“If it manages to make it past all the local hurdles, it would be a good thing to have,” he said, but added, “It’s probably going to be shot down by a variety of local forces.”

By Zeke MacCormack


21 June 2007