‘None of this is going to occur without the will of the people.’
–Terry A. Argotsinger, on construction of a ‘wind park’ in Gillespie
Trying to get a firmer grasp on the implications of a “wind park” in Gillespie County, around 280 concerned citizens attended an educational meeting Thursday at the Hangar Hotel Conference Center.
There, they heard an independent speaker talk about both the pros and cons of wind-powered electricity generation as well as give advice to landowners on what to watch for in legal agreements with wind power companies.
The event, hosted by the Gillespie County Economic Development Commission (EDC), featured a four-hour presentation by Terry A. Argotsinger, an Accredited Farm Manager and Accredited Rural Appraiser (ARA) from Iowa, who frequently provides expert witness court testimony on agricultural matters.
Interest in the issue of wind-generated electricity has grown substantially in recent weeks since AES Wind Generation has reportedly begun to approach numerous local landowners about the prospect of placing large, wind-generating towers on their individual properties in what would collectively form a “wind park” of 300-foot tall turbines spanning the hill lines in north-central Gillespie County.
Although the prospect of easement agreements with the power companies could bring added yearly incomes to farmers and others owning such tree-top properties, the effects on neighboring land values, hunting leases and the Texas Hill Country’s famous scenery valued by residents and visitors alike have been causes for concern.
Argotsinger began Thursday’s session with an extensive his
tory lesson on wind-powered generators and described in detail the mechanics of the turbines used to convert breezes into electricity.
He noted that the 300-foot towers (each with three 160-foot-long carbon fiber blades) are secured into the ground with a 30-foot deep concrete cylinder measuring five feet in diameter.
Each tower, consisting of the generator, rotor and blades, weighs about 209 tons and each contains a weather station, data recorder, brakes and a service stairwell and door located near its top.
Argotsinger stated that towers have a plate capacity rating of 1.5 megawatts and each costs about $1.5 million to construct, or about $1.00 per kilowatt hour. It takes about three to fourth months of generated electricity to replace the electricity needed to build and erect the equipment, he added.
Turbines must link into a substation where “dirty” electricity is removed and clean electricity is outputted into transmission lines, so some landowner (and possibly more than one) will be approached about placing a substation on his/her property by a power company looking to put in a future wind park, Argotsinger said.
A wind power plant can take about a year to construct, while an individual tower can be erected in just a few days, he said.
The Energy Picture
In the overall energy “picture”, Texas has already surpassed California in wind-generated electricity production. “You guys are just getting started, too,” he said, adding “Wind generation has the greatest potential for growth.”
Currently the anticipated demand for electricity is actually more than expected production. “The only way to fill that gap is through conservation,” he said.
In order to promote “green”, or renewable, energy, the government has required by law for power companies to buy five percent of their power from alternative power sources each year. That has led the way to wind production.
Texas implemented the Public Utility Regulatory Act of 1999 that set a 10-year renewable energy goal at 2,000 MW. As of this year, Texans have already surpassed that goal by using over 3,000 MW of renewable, alternative energy, Argotsinger said.
“The population growth is expected to surge in Texas in the next few years and it takes great advance planning to be able to handle that,” he said.
“The United States is using 10 times more than the rest of the world in energy consumption,” he said, showing that in 2003 America used 13,242 kwh per capita. “On the other side of the coin, this country is producing a lot for the better of the rest of the world.”
The Pros And Cons
Of A Wind Park
Among the “pros” to having a wind park come into the area would be good income, clean energy, safety, upgrades easily, it reduces dependence on coal and petroleum and it reduces carbon emissions.
“Cons” associated with wind-powered electricity generation he listed included uncertain legislative action, the noise factor, electrical interference, the visual impact on the scenery, the expensive cost of energy, the moving shadows created by the blades (that can cause Vertigo in some humans) and the bird strikes.
In addition, he said, it would be wise to have studies done by scientists on how wind turbines would impact the local habitat and species native to this area. “We all want to live in harmony with our habitat and our lifestyles,” he said.
He then discussed what power companies look for in choosing a new wind park location. Deciding factors include power grid placement, wind velocity in the area, state and federal mandates, tax incentives (Texas has “huge” incentives in the form of production tax credits, he said), the demand for power and the will of the people.
“None of this is going to occur without the will of the people,” he said. “But, whatever you decide, please decide it with knowledge.”
A wind project’s development process includes: site selection, land agreements, wind assessments, environmental reviews, economic modeling, interconnection studies, permitting, sales agreements, financing, turbine procurement, construction contracting and operation and maintenance.
Argotsinger pointed out that the wind power companies will approach the owners of properties they have identified as viable early in the process and offer them a “blanket” easement over their entire land so that the power company can conduct studies to see where the best location for a tower might be.
Easement agreements can bring modest payments early on while the power company begins its data collection and analysis. Then, during the construction phase, landowners may get a separate set of payments to cover the inconvenience and extra activity on the property by construction crews, who will have large equipment such as cranes coming in and out of the property.
And, when the wind turbine goes on line, the landowner may be asked to sign a different, much more long-term easement which covers payment for only the property on which the tower stands and the service road, Argotsinger said.
Easements of that nature can come in many different forms, he said, explaining that some are provided in one big check up front, while others can be fixed annual payments, royalty payments that provide revenue from a defined percentage of the tower’s production and even flip contracts where the landowner becomes the owner of the tower after 10 years. In that scenario, Argotsinger warned landowners to be careful because even though they may assume ownership of the asset, they also then would assume the tax liability because the 10-year mark is typically when the state’s tax credit runs out.
“Consider in all these agreements and their terminology how you can stipulate for a tower’s removal. Protect yourself and lay out in writing who is responsible for removal of the tower, when and how,” he said.
He also cautioned landowners that Texas currently does not have severability laws concerning wind energy rights on land.
“Talk to industry professionals, know the potential of a given piece of land, study the wind maps and be ready to be a part of ‘green power’,” he advised.
The Effects On Real Estate
“When a wind park comes to your area, it puts a stop to real estate activity,” Argotsinger said, noting that tower generators that are up and running provide “pretty nice income” that landowners are unwilling to sell off. There are very few sales on record of lands containing wind turbines on them, he said.
However, regarding property values, a tower can take up to one-quarter of an acre of productive land (in flat lands used for crops), but “productive” in one state might be different than that here.
So far to Argotsinger’s knowledge, there have not been wind parks placed in areas where the aesthetics of the countryside are a key part of the local industry. For example, in West Texas, wind turbines provide contrast to a flat terrain. But, in Gillespie County where tourism is the second most important industry, the site of wind turbines lined up on the hills might act to diminish the famous “Hill Country” view, particularly for those gazing from atop Enchanted Rock.
And, the towers create activity in otherwise remote areas and that fact alone could weigh in on a property’s value.
While there is daily basic maintenance through the tower’s computer “beaming” data back to an off-site center, the tower also comes with a regular maintenance schedule requiring physical activity at its location. How that activity would affect properties where hunting leases are a big part of the annual income is not certain.
Concerned citizens at the meeting also questioned whether the sounds generated by the towers could be detrimental to hunters or others on the land.
Argotsinger replied that a person standing underneath a tower would hear two types of sounds n the gears of the motor moving in the tower’s hub and the whooshing as the big blades came around. However, he said, “As you walk from the tower, by the time you are 1,000 feet away, you can’t hear it anymore,” he said.
In addition, landowners were told that some timber must be cleared from the land for the construction of each tower, “but probably not as much as you would think,” Argotsinger said. Again, he urged landowners to watch the wording of their easement agreements so that they can maintain some control over the clearing of trees.
Wednesday, Jun 27, 2007
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