BROWNWOOD – Last month, a show of hands during a lunch meeting about wind energy in Brown County indicated overwhelming support of the industry.
Tuesday, a show of hands at a wind energy forum attended by those opposing the industry indicated the majority of those in attendance did not want wind energy to blow into Brown County.
Wind energy has become a hot-button issue in Brown County since the Roadrunner Windfarm was proposed last year by Renewable Energy Systems Inc. The proposed $450 million project will involve Brown, Comanche and Mills counties and include 150 turbines. Only 15-20 are expected to be located in southeast Brown County, and construction could begin in 2009.
Comanche and Mills counties have approved tax abatement agreements with RES, but Brown County commissioners have yet to approve the request. Another project is reportedly under consideration by Airtricity, but the company has not approached the county yet.
In addition, all five of the school districts affected by the project have approved agreements with RES. The districts are Blanket, Comanche, Mullin, Priddy and Zephyr.
Brown County Judge Ray West said the commissioners have already approved the reinvestment zone. However, last month the approval of the abatement was tabled.
“It has never been our position to interfere with private enterprise or with private property owners,” West said.
West said so far, the abatement request is not slated for any upcoming commissioners meetings.
“But it could go on the agenda before the March 4 primary,” West said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Tuesday’s forum was held by the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce in an attempt to welcome opposing views on wind energy.
Last month, Sweetwater Mayor Greg Wortham, who is president of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium and has overseen the explosion of wind energy in Nolan, Taylor and Scurry counties, spoke at a luncheon. He pointed to the positive aspects of wind energy, including the creation of jobs, tax revenue for counties and school districts, and revenue for landowners.
On Tuesday, guest speakers pointed out the negatives on wind energy, including the effect of the turbines on the landscape and on wildlife, as well as the lack of regulations for the industry.
Dr. Pat Lapoint, a McMurry University professor, was one of the panelists, and one of 11 plaintiffs who unsuccessfully sued Florida Power & Light over the Horse Hollow wind farm project in 2005. The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center is the largest in the world, with 421 turbines in Taylor and Nolan counties that produce 735 megawatts of power.
Lapoint said she lives just a half-mile from the turbines and that the machines are extremely noisy, are eyesores and disrupt the quality of life that rural residents enjoy.
“The land in Taylor County is forever damaged,” said Lapoint, who lives in Tuscola. “I hope you will take into consideration what this means for neighboring property owners, and I hope all of the factors are seriously considered before this county does anything.”
Dr. Paul Burns has done extensive studies on wind energy since he was approached by Airtricity to lease a portion of his ranch in northeast Brown County off U.S. 183 between Blanket and May. Burns warned those in favor of the wind turbines that Texas is the prime location because “there are no real regulations in place” regarding wind energy. He noted that the wind energy companies approaching landowners are based in other countries, like Ireland and Germany, and could not care less about the landowners once they get the wind turbines up.
“This is not Nolan County. We have less wind, and our land is more heavily populated,” Burns said. “Once they are up, it’s like the Brownwood Hotel – you may not own it, but you sure have to look at it.”
Burns said the taxpayers will bear the burden of the turbines if the industry dries up and blows away.
“The legions of losers are the taxpayers,” Burns continued. “This is the most important decision Brown County will ever make. Let’s tell Germany and England: Don’t mess with Brown County.”
Robert Weatherford was part of a group of Gillespie County residents who opposed the placement of wind turbines in areas near Fredericksburg, Kerrville and Llano, and successfully urged city and county officials not to grant abatements.
Weatherford said his group was not opposed to wind energy.
“But we are opposed to putting them where they don’t make sense,” Weatherford said, adding that the best wind is in West Texas and not in the Hill Country.
Weatherford and his group are asking for more state regulations regarding wind energy and are supporting a legislative study proposed by state Sen. Troy Fraser on such regulations. All of the panelists supported more state regulations on the industry.
“There are more permitting requirements for putting in a septic system in the county than there are requirements for wind turbines,” Weatherford said.
He added that the wind farms impede the aesthetic value of the land and negatively affect wildlife.
Dr. John Dunn, a Brown County landowner, physician and attorney, also has done extensive studies on wind energy. He said tax abatements are special favors granted to wind companies at the expense of the residents.
“The wind energy business is a scam and a bad idea,” Dunn said. “In 10 years, a velvet painting of Elvis and Conway Twitty will be worth more than a wind turbine.”
Dunn said there is no regulatory way to stop the wind energy companies from coming into the county.
“There’s nothing to do except make them feel unwelcome,” Dunn said. “We do that by not granting the abatements.”
By Celinda Emison
19 February 2008