Laurie Lasater finds himself these days in an exquisite dilemma.
He reveres the right of property-owners to use their land as they see fit, yet he deplores the rush of ranchers to install huge wind turbines on vast rolling plains.
“The concerns are twofold,” said the third-generation rancher, whose grandfather introduced the Beefmaster breed to South Texas. “First are property rights. The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association stoutly defends private property rights, but wind farms not only affect the view, they also hurt land values.
“Second is the true cost of energy produced. For both ethanol and wind energy, the true cost is approximately double the cost of energy from other sources.”
Lasater cited a Wall Street Journal report that purports to show the energy produced by wind turbines equals about $120 per barrel compared to the world price of oil, which is about $70 a barrel.
He served 22 years on the board of directors for the TSCRA before relinquishing his seat to his son, Lorenzo, in 2005.
While speaking as an individual, the San Angelo cattleman spelled out the complex issues confronting landowners, consumers and public policymakers.
A Gainesville-based group called the North Texas Wind Resistance Alliance disputes ERCOT’s claim that wind efficiency is 16.9 percent, meaning wind conditions generate power less than one-fifth of the time. Critics contend it’s 2 percent, meaning wind is neither efficient nor economical for electrical generation.
They note that nuclear-powered Comanche Peak, operating at 90-percent efficiency, equals 4,400 wind turbines at $1.5 million each.
At this year’s cattle raisers’ convention, directors called for the state to study whether regulation is needed to govern wind energy.
Even though ranchers seem to be primary beneficiaries of wind technology, Lasater said those appearances might be deceiving.
“It’s a very delicate thing,” he said, noting that leaders within the association are strongly divided – thus, the association’s innocuous resolution to study the matter.
“I believe the ultimate answers to energy independence from the Middle East are going to be coal, conservation and nuclear,” Lasater said. “We’re not working on any of those.”
He attributed the inactivity to the American nature of acting only when conditions reach crisis proportions.
“We have two wars going on, and the public has not been asked to sacrifice anything,” he said, excepting families with loved ones serving in harm’s way.
After 45 years in the cattle business, Lasater said he’s beginning to understand some fundamental realities.
“We believed we were converting sunshine and labor into nutrient-dense, wonderful beef,” he observed. “What we didn’t realize was our sole function was to take all the risks.
“Nobody cares who produces the calves – Texas or Brazil,” he continued. “With the decline in beef cattle numbers, we’re going to import a large number of feeder calves from Brazil in the foreseeable future.”
Ranching, he said, was based historically on the inflation of values free of tax.
“Since Abraham, ranching has been an avenue for the accumulation of wealth by building inventory,” he continued, referring to the Old Testament patriarch. He noted that the original word for “cattle” was “chattel,” the basis of the word “capital,” as in “capitalism.”
Today, the United States has 10 million fewer beef cattle than when Lasater went into the business. He attributes that loss to government intervention in the markets, specifically farm and dairy subsidies, which distort meat production.
Could government intervention in energy markets similarly pose an adverse future?
“These government activities – though well-intentioned – have big, unexpected impacts on other things,” Lasater said.
“We feel in the cattle industry philosophically, the same should apply to anything, whether energy or anything else,” he continued. “Economics should be the primary determining thing when implementing any technology.”
By Perry Flippin
29 August 2007
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