Four speakers took turns explaining adverse consequences of life with wind farms Tuesday at a Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon that focused on the downside of turbines.
It followed a January chamber of commerce luncheon at which the economic advantages to counties where wind farms are located were outlined.
“Like Hotel Brownwood, you may not own it but you sure have to look at it,” Dr. Paul Burns, an Austin physician whose family has ranched north of Brownwood since 1873, told more than 150 people who jammed into the Brownwood Country Club’s banquet room. “I ask the (county) leaders to take the long view and favor peace, quiet and beauty, and support local control.” Burns said each wind-generating tower would be three times taller than the now vacant 13-story former hotel in downtown Brownwood.
Brown County Commission-ers are considering a request to grant tax abatements to Renewable Energy Systems, which has plans to build several dozen wind turbines in southern Brown, Comanche and Mills counties. Another project is being developed in northern Brown County by Airtricity, but no abatement has been sought. Several members of the audience quoted research that indicates no wind farms have been located in areas where local tax abatements were not granted.
Tuesday’s meeting was a follow-up to last month’s chamber luncheon where Greg Wortham, mayor of Sweetwater and executive director of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium, spoke to an audience of about 135. At that meeting, a significant majority of the crowd raised hands indicating their support of wind towers in the county. At Monday’s meeting, the results were reversed, chamber executive director Laura Terhune observed.
Burns said through six generations, his family has endured drought, declining economic farm conditions and other adversities, but they’ve always known that “if you work hard, you can tough it out. The land restores you. The land’s beauty is its primary value, but all of the property in Brown County is being threatened. Someone else will make the decisions about our land, and it can never be reversed if (the decisions) are wrong.”
Brown County resident Dr. John Dunn said county government can’t prevent wind turbines from being placed on property where owners allow it, but it can choose not to allow tax abatements to encourage their placement.
“A velvet painting of Elvis or Conway Twitty will be more valuable than wind turbines,” Dunn said of the towers’ long-range investment prospects. “This is not a good part of the world to build windmills. They are inefficient, even in the best locations.”
Dunn said state legislation requiring power companies to generate certain amounts of electricity by alternative methods is the basis for wind industry development in Texas, but he claimed it is twice as expensive as using coal.
“It’s a deal that has to be made on government support,” Dunn said.
Pat LaPointe of Buffalo Gap, who owns acreage adjacent to a massive wind farm in Taylor County, said the scenic view from the home where she lives with her mother has been ruined, and noise is often a problem.
“I don’t think we ever anticipated what was coming,” LaPointe said. “The land in Taylor County is forever damaged… I hope you will take very seriously what it means to be an adjacent landowner. When Taylor County made the decision, they didn’t consider the interest of neighboring property owners. That’s what Texans are all about: being friendly people who are good neighbors.”
“We are not opposed to wind turbines, and we are not opposed to development,” Robert Weatherford, president of Save Our Scenic Hill Country in Gillespie County, said. “We are opposed to wind turbines where they are not realistic.”
He pointed to aesthetic, environmental and regulatory issues, offering to explain the situation that exists in the Hill Country while saying Brown County residents will have to determine what, if any, of that applies here.
“Aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder, but industrial wind turbines will change the landscape,” Weatherford said. “We don’t want to encourage development that destroys more than it creates.
“We’re concerned about wind turbine sprawl. We’re concerned about very long term agreements. We’re concerned that is is basically an unregulated industry. There are more regulations covering the installation of a septic system in the country than there is to install a $150 million turbine.”
Weatherford said his association supports an interim legislative study under way by state Sen. Troy Fraser and a senate committee that “hopefully will lead to reasonable oversight of the wind industry in our state.”
In a question-and-answer session, Burns said his research has shown that the job growth related to wind turbines is related to construction and is temporary. Permanent jobs number about one for every turbine.
LaPointe said property values for land fall between 10 to 30 percent, depending on proximity. She said her property value dropped 20 percent, and acknowledged that the landowner where the towers are placed probably has income from the turbines to offset that.
In response to a question, Brown County Judge Ray West said the issue before the commissioners is simply whether to grant tax abatements to RES for its project in southern Brown County, and that the reinvestment zone designation is not an issue. By making the entire county a reinvestment zone, the process for county consideration of any request is expedited because small segments of the county don’t need to be designated with each request.
Concerning the abatement request by the wind energy company, “It’s not the county’s intent to interfere with private land ownership or with private enterprise,” West said, but the request before commissioners puts the two at odds.
By Gene Deason
20 February 2008
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