Interest by California-based AES Wind Generation in establishing a large-scale wind energy operation in Gillespie County is being reconsidered, it was learned here Monday.
According to a City of Fredericksburg official who asked not to be identified, a letter from a company officer stated that AES SeaWest Inc. of San Diego has decided to discontinue pursuing wind energy in an area north of Fredericksburg that generally stretches between U.S. Highway 87 and RM 965.
Instead, the city official related, the company has decided to focus on other areas in Texas.
Prompting the decision, he added, was AES’ concerns that sensitive species and bat colonies living in the area could be incompatible with large-scale wind energy.
The letter, the city official added, cited the emphasis that AES says it places on environmental stewardship and preservation of wildlife.
As a result, he said, the company said it was concerned that its Cherry Mountain site was not suitable from a wildlife standpoint and therefore not a good use of the firm’s development process.
AES had reportedly been in contact with landowners north of Fredericksburg over a year or so and had begun negotiations over possible lease options for erecting the 300-foot-tall wind turbines with 160-foot rotating blades on their properties.
Meanwhile, the company had also installed an anemometer tower near RM 2323 to measure wind data, had met with community leaders to discuss potential development opportunities and had investigated wildlife conditions in that part of the county.
Reactions among landowners and businessmen to the AES decision this week were mixed.
Landowners like David Sagebiel, who lives just off RM 965 in the vicinity of Enchanted Rock, said having a wind farm lease would generate “a pretty nice income” for those property owners in that part of the county who have leases with a wind generating operation.
“They’re actually pretty quiet, and I don’t think they look bad,” he said, adding that he has already received one check for the lease agreement he’d signed with AES.
Meanwhile, Mrs. A.C. (Mary) Kast said that, while her family was still weighing whether or not to sign a lease, receiving revenue from such a lease could be helpful.
“Making a living farming and ranching these days is so difficult that I can see where having a wind energy lease would help people like us to hold on to their land.”
Mrs. Sammy (Raynette) Geistweidt, who said also that her family had not yet signed a lease, acknowledged how having wind turbines would help landowners keep their farms and ranches in the family.
“It would also be a good supplementary income and could help landowners improve their ranches,” she said.
Dwight Oestreich of Century 21 Sunset, Realtors, said yesterday that he could understand how financially appealing signing a wind farm lease might be to landowners.
“But, I feel that they would be very detrimental in the long term to property values here,” he said, adding that wind turbines “just don’t blend in aesthetically with the Hill Country.
Dennis Kusenberger, owner of Re/Max Town and Country, Realtors, said that, in his opinion, wind farms in the section of the county north of Fredericksburg “would destroy real estate values in that area”.
He explained that he had been in contact with real estate offices in New York, Pennsylvania, California and New Hampshire “and none of them had anything nice to say about the marketability of land if your neighbor has them (wind turbines).”
Kusenberger agreed with Oestreich that wind farms are better located in less-scenic sections of West Texas.
“They’re fine out there, but they just don’t make any sense in Gillespie County,” Kusenberger said.
Dian Stai, a landowner in the Cherry Springs community, said she, too, has been concerned about the issue of building wind farms in the Fredericksburg area.
“I can see both sides of the issue from a landowner’s standpoint, but I really would be delighted to hear that they are being reconsidered for here,” she said yesterday. “It’s just not in the best interests of this part of the state.”
Mike Tomforde, who owns 1,000 acres of land close to Enchanted Rock, said Tuesday that AES had contacted him about the possibility of putting up eight wind turbines on his place.
“I wouldn’t let them touch my property,” he said. “To sign a lease would immediately cut the value of land anywhere from 25 percent and up. As a result, a group of us who are very vehemently opposed to it have been organizing to fight to preserve the Hill Country’s wonderful atmosphere and to not let it be ruined.”
The Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau’s board of directors has also addressed the wind farm issue.
“Regarding the AES wind farm, the board has discussed the proposed project from a tourism perspective which is what the board is charged with,” said CVD Executive Director Ernie Loeffler who allowed, as with any issue facing a growing community, that there are usually two or more sides to consider.
He said that, with the project’s proposed location being in close visual proximity to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, CVB board’s discussions have centered on where there might be a resulting negative economic impact on visitation numbers at the park and, if so, possibly throughout the rest of the county.
Loeffler added that park staffers have estimated that Enchanted Rock drew around 185,000 guests last year, making it “certainly one of the major attractions of visitors to Gillespie County.”
Meanwhile, Oestreich cautioned against believing that AES’ decision not to develop a large-scale wind energy operation here will be an end to the concept.
“Even if AES pulls out, it’s not necessarily a dead issue,” he said, “because another company might want to pick up where AES left off.”
15 August 2007
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