NRG Energy – the second energy company to have shown interest over the past year in developing a wind generation operation in Gillespie County – has now decided to discontinue its efforts here.
“While we have not yet made any decisions on where to locate additional wind farms, the site we were exploring in Gillespie County is no longer being considered,” David B. Knox, communications manager for NRG in Houston, told the Standard-Radio Post yesterday afternoon in a phone interview.
Knox added that the company’s initial review of environmental and economic data showed more promising sites for locating an energy-efficient wind farm elsewhere in the state.
NRG’s interest here came soon after AES Wind Generation – due to environmental concerns – abandoned plans in August to develop a wind farm operation in an area north of Fredericksburg that generally stretched between U.S. Highway 87 and FM 965.
Subsequently, Hilliard Energy, a Midland-based firm, began contacting landowners in Gillespie and adjoining Llano and Mason counties on behalf of NRG, reportedly to negotiate lease options for erecting wind turbines on those properties.
Knox explained that NRG has been working to bring additional zero emission wind generation to Texas.
“In addition to the two wind projects we are developing in West Texas, we are also exploring additional locations in the state that would be optimal for wind generation.”
Word of NRG’s decision initially came Nov. 30 in a phone conversation between an NRG officer and District 24 State Sen. Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay who said the developer stated that there is some question about there being enough wind capacity in Gillespie County to make a wind generating facility here feasible.
In relaying word of NRG’s decision, Fraser acknowledged that the company was aware of opposition to wind energy from some quarters in the Fredericksburg area and that it was not interested “in fighting a protracted battle” in the county.
“I personally support wind energy development in Texas but not where it is not wanted,” said Fraser who added that there are “many more wind spots in the state where it is economically practical.”
He also added that 95 percent of the counties in Texas where wind energy is being explored “accept and even embrace its development.”
But concerns by many here that construction and operation of wind turbines could harm wildlife, the tourism industry and the Fredericksburg area’s property values have made Gillespie County one of the most-vocal locations in the state against the industry.
“Gillespie County is the first county in Texas where there’s been this much organized resistance to wind energy,” Fraser said Monday.
He added that similar concerns have also been voiced in a section of northern Lampasas County and along the Texas Gulf Coast by the King Ranch.
Elsewhere, the existence of ideal wind conditions in some sections of the state have changed Texas over the past four years from being a virtual non-existent player in the wind generation industry to being the national leader.
“In fact, the area around Abilene is now considered the largest wind farm area in the world,” added Fraser who said that the developing wind turbine industry especially makes good sense as a renewable energy source for helping to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Looking to the future, Fraser said Monday that, as chairman in the Texas Senate of the Electric/Utility Restructuring Legislative Oversight Committee (EURLOC), he hopes to work with leaders in the Texas House to hold hearings next spring on a possible siting-and-permitting procedure for locating wind farms in the state.
He added that, as part of that process, he wants to involve leaders in the Fredericksburg area for developing a state policy on wind energy.
“At present, we have nothing like that on the books,” he said, “and so I think we need to figure out a way to encourage wind energy in areas of the state where it’s wanted while at the same time giving those with concerns a chance to voice their objections to it.”
Over the past year, several organizations have formulated statements voicing concerns over the development of industrial wind farm operations in Gillespie County.
Among them is one calling itself Save Our Scenic Hill Country whose president Robert Weatherford told the Standard-Radio Post Monday that his group “applauds NRG’s decision not to continue exploring a wind farm site in Gillespie County.”
In that same vein, Greg Snelgrove, executive director of the Gillespie County Economic Development Commission, said Monday that, while he, too, is pleased with NRG’s decision, “we’ve got to be ever-vigilant” in working to discourage other alternative power companies from initiating industrial wind farm interests here.
Earlier this year, the EDC’s board of directors had approved a statement which “strongly opposes” construction of industrial wind farms in the Fredericksburg area.
“Wind turbines are incompatible with the elements that make the Hill Country special,” the EDC statement said. “There is ample reason to believe that industrial wind farms would cause a general reduction in property values and a significant reduction in tourism.”
The statement went on to point out that county and city governments as well as school districts are responsible and fiscally conservative.
“The loss of revenue from reduced tourist dollars and a tax base reduced by declining property values will result in a corresponding tax rate increase,” the statement continued. “Tax increases do not stimulate economic vitality.”
Similarly, the Fredericksburg City Council in its Dec. 3 meeting approved a resolution opposing the construction of industrial wind farms in the Gillespie County area.
The resolution stated that wind farms “will permanently degrade the scenic vistas of our area for long distances” and “forever scar” the view from Enchanted Rock – a popular recreational asset of the area.
The city document further contended that wind farms would “destroy the peaceful existence of the quality of life the residents of Gillespie County have come to enjoy over the years by generating noise from the turbines, creating ‘shadow, strobe or flicker’ effects.”
In their resolution, city council members agreed also that it is widely accepted by professional appraisers and members of the real estate community that land values where industrial wind farms are built and the land of the adjoining property owners could be devalued.
Finally, the resolution cited a contention by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas that the amount of wind generated in Gillespie County is designated as being 20th out of 25 potential wind areas in the state.
12 December 2007
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