ANDREWS COUNTY – Through his own initiative, J. B. Whatley hopes to transform his ranch into a wind farm.
“Nearly two years ago, I erected a big MET tower, put all the equipment on it and started recording wind to see if the potential was here for wind development,” Whatley said. A MET is a meteorological tower that measures wind speed. His was 270 feet at its center – as tall as one of the turbines.
Most ranchers sign with a developer and they do the wind study to see if they’re interested. Instead, Whatley hired a lawyer to put out bids to companies. He signed with American Shoreline of Corpus Christi to develop the $340 million 2W Whatley Ranch Wind project.
“I just took a chance. I’ve got a little entrepreneurial spirit about it. I thought, ‘I’ll find out for myself, that way I’ll know,'” Whatley said.
PSEG of New Jersey is considering participating in project, proposed for 1,650 acres in Andrews and Ector counties. Turbines could be up and running by December 2009, company spokeswoman Jennifer Kramer said.
2W Wind LLC proposes to construct 80 to 106 wind turbines, Andrews County Judge Richard Dolgener said. Andrews County commissioners have approved a resolution to authorize a reinvestment zone in the area.
“I think it’s great for Ector and Andrews County both. It’s falling into our diversification plan,” to get away from too much dependence on oil and gas production, Dolgener said.
“We’ve been through those ups and downs. We want to make sure the economy is stable. We like it because it’s energy,” he added. “… It’s a win-win situation. They’re bringing capital and wind here and putting it on the grid so they can sell the electricity.”
Current plans have 96 megawatts being installed in Andrews County, representing a nearly $202 million investment, and 64 megawatts in Ector County, representing $134 million, Kramer said.
Building would start in 2008 with an “in-service” date of December 2009, Kramer said.
The wind farm would provide 200 to 300 jobs during construction, which could last a year, and 11 long-term jobs, Kramer said.
PSEG has approached taxing entities in Ector and Andrews counties and their respective school districts about abatements. Ector County and Andrews ISD are looking into moving ahead. Both have hired the school finance firm of Moak, Casey and Associates of Austin.
Andrews ISD Superintendent David Mitchell said state tax code 313 allows a fee to be paid in lieu of taxes.
“The school board (recently) voted to commission an impact study. That impact study will be conducted by Moak, Casey and Associates , the premier school finance group in the state,” Mitchell said.
Independent of Moak, Casey, Andrews ISD also hired attorney Kevin O’Hanlon to negotiate contracts between 2W Wind and the school district. “Our main focus is to put the district in a position where we don’t lose anything. In the event any kind of tax consideration is given to them, we want to make sure the district doesn’t lose any revenue,” Mitchell said.
The impact study should take about a month to complete.
“Once we get the impact study back, the board will determine whether to grant whatever negotiated tax abatement it chooses with the 2W Wind people, or they can decide they don’t want to participate. We have done nothing that binds the district to the company at this point,” he added.
Andrews Director of Economic Development Wesley Burnett said 60-65 percent of the project is planned for Andrews County. This will be the first wind project in Andrews or Ector county.
“This is going to be a big deal for us. Hopefully, it opens the door for future projects for us,” Burnett said.
Whatley, who bought his ranch four years ago but has lived on it for 24, currently pastures cattle for people. He’s glad the venture could become reality. “I’m real excited about it. The sooner the better for me,” he said.
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