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Windmill worries — Energy turbines stir hunters’ concerns  

Wind energy and wind farms are hot topics in Texas, and many hunters are worried. Gary Donohoe of Royse City leases property for deer hunting near Sterling City, and has watched from his deer blinds as the wind turbines get closer each year. “The turbines are coming our way,” he said, noting his landowner is talking to wind energy companies. “We’re real concerned; we’ve been protein feeding for three years and things are finally looking real good.”

What concerns wildlife officials and hunters is hunter access. Some feel the income from the turbines will offset the income from hunting operations and landowners will stop leasing the property.

While landowners and industry people are bound by confidentiality clauses from disclosing income amounts, The State of Texas Web site says the average income to a landowner is $5,000 per turbine per year. “I can tell you that in the areas around here,” said Glen Webb, an Abilene attorney who represents landowners in negotiating contracts with wind energy companies, “It’s more like $8,000 to $9,000 per turbine per year,” Webb said.

“Some of the wind energy contracts are not allowing hunting with a rifle,” said Kevin Mote, district biologist with TPW. “Hunters there have lost their leases.”

Wind turbines dot the landscape in West Texas, and the Texas coast and even the Hill Country may be next. Some people love them and others consider them eyesores. More than 200 interested landowners, industry and wildlife officials attended a Wind & Wildlife Conference hosted by the Texas Wildlife Association and the Texas Cooperative Extension in Abilene Oct. 25-26.

Industry officials wind power as a “green” solution to provide an alternate energy source that uses no fossil fuels. “Growth of the industry is inevitable,” said Ned Ross of FPL Energy. “We’re good stewards of the land – we want to be partners with the landowners.”

Ross said the newer 100-ton turbines stand 100 meters tall and have a diameter of 14 feet at the base. The three blades total 80 meters in length.

The effect of turbines on deer and quail populations is varied, but many feel the long-term effect is minimal.

K. C. Jones owns a ranch in Shackelford County, and is neighbored on three sides by landowners with turbines.

“We definitely saw an influx of deer during the construction of their turbines,” he said. “Some might think that’s a good thing, but we manage our herd very carefully and had to take out a lot of deer.”

Rod Hench owns a ranch in Scurry County, and is part of a group of 13 landowners with 87 towers. “There was dispersement of wildlife during construction,” he said. “But there hasn’t been much effect on the wildlife; most of the towers are on high, rocky land.”

David Coleman manages the hunting operation at the Galbraith Family Ranch near Abilene. “We have deer and hogs very close to the turbines,” he said. “During construction, I’m not sure they left at all, but if they did it wasn’t for long. I wish they made a turbine that ran off the hogs.”

Many landowners feel the wind turbines saved the family ranch.

Johnny Ussery owns the Ussery Ranch in Nolan County, and turbines were installed in 2005. “The decision to do it was gut-wrenching,” he said. “But we needed financial diversity, we had a large investment with a small return. It ensures we can keep the family ranch together for our grandkids.”

Hench said the 13-member group in Scurry County was diverse. “Some of the landowners didn’t need the money, but for others it was crucial,” he said.

Industry officials said they have no problems with hunting. “We don’t allow hunting during the construction phase to protect the people working,” said William Coates of RES. “But most leases have full hunting privileges once construction has been completed.”

Others disagreed. “Originally, hunting was banned in most contracts,” said Glen Webb, an Abilene attorney who represents landowners in negotiating with wind energy companies. “Landowners need to make sure hunting isn’t banned in the contract.”

Webb, a TWA member, said the energy companies aren’t that hunter-friendly. “They don’t like hunting, I don’t care what they say,” he said. If a landowner was silent regarding hunting issues during the negotiations, “the contract would say no hunting,” he said.

For now, Donahoe will focus on the deer. “On a positive note,” he said. “The deer look great this year.”

By Craig Nyhus

Lone Star Outdoor News

21 November 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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