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State committee meeting next month to discuss wind energy in West Texas  

For more than a century, Texas has been the national leader on energy production thanks to its giant oil and natural gas fields.

But gradually those oil and gas fields are giving way to wind power. And no region in the state stands to benefit more from wind energy than West Texas, particularly the Panhandle.

The Texas House Regulated Industries Committee next month will hold a public hearing in Amarillo to discuss the future of the industry in West Texas.

“What we will do in that meeting is have about 50 counties and 75 cities present resolutions to the PUC (Public Utility Commission) and to the committee supporting the wind farms out there and trying to help get the transmissions out there,” said state Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, who has been working for over four years to bring wind power to West Texas.

Some in the industry say its future is in Panhandle winds.

“Amarillo is like an all-you-can-eat buffet,” said Mike Sloan, president of Austin-based Virtus Energy Research Associates, a renewable energy consultant.

“You are going to have a lot of wind development in Amarillo,” Sloan explained. “It is one of the best wind resources areas, arguably in the world, because the wind resources are very good and it is also easy to build around there.”

What it means

For state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, and Swinford, the development of wind power in the region means several things.

• First it will bring billions of dollars in investment to West Texas, which in turn will create hundreds of good paying jobs.

• Second, it will help not just the region but the entire state to meet its energy needs at a time when oil and gas are getting more expensive. In the Panhandle, where as many as 7,000 wind mills could one day operate, wind power could light up 1.7 million homes.

• And landowners will earn significant amounts of extra income if they rent their property to wind mill owners. Some landowners are already getting $500 a month in rent per each turbine built on their property.

As for investors, the wealthy Hunt family of Dallas, billionaire Boone Pickens, and companies such as Xcel Energy and Florida Power Line have already invested or are committed to investing in the development of wind energy in the region.

“The Hunts out of Dallas are ready to write a check, about $1.5 billion,” Swinford said. In addition, last summer he attended a wind energy conference in Los Angeles where he met with about 15 interested investors. Some may come to next month’s committee hearing and start negotiating a deal, Swinford said.

Xcel already owns a significant wind farm in Oldham County, Smithee said.

The Legislature’s role

Lawmakers are pushing wind power as economic development, said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford and chairman of the House Regulated Industries Committee.

“Part of our job is to make sure power plants get built,” King said. “We’ve got to balance that with the environmental issues. So, really we’re involved at every level.” “We are growing 1,360 people a day,” King added. “So, we’ve got to build more power plants, we’ve got to create more electricity for Texas. Wind is a great opportunity to do that but it needs a little incentive.”

Smithee said it is the free market that will dictate how the wind energy market works its way in West Texas.

“We are not so concerned about regulating who builds where because the market will eventually take care of that and we’re probably better off staying out of it,” he said.

Nonetheless, the state has a key role in the development of wind power, said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose office is aggressively pushing wind energy because oil and gas are “diminishing resources.”

“I am a big advocate because wind power plays a big role not just in the development of new, renewable and clean energy but in generating tax revenue for the state that will pay for our schools and other needs,” Patterson said.

By Enrique Rangel

Lubbock Online

24 March 2008

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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