MUENSTER – A logo of a wolf howling at the moon amid a silhouette of the familiar trident-shape of a wind generator tower marks the entrance to the site of the most activity the northwest part of Cooke County has seen in some time.
And within a month or so, anyone from within miles of the project will be able to see what’s going up in what real estate agents have promoted as the Hill Country of North Texas – a series of titan, 260-foot-tall wind generators lining one of the highest, and windiest, points in the region.
And before fall sets in, spokesmen say, the 75 generators are expected to be spinning and cranking out electricity.
Wolf Ridge Wind LLC., the subsidiary company of FPL Energy (a part of Florida Power and Light), is headquartered off FM 371 north of Muenster – the epicenter of an ambitious wind farm project to stretch from north of Muenster to southwest of Saint Jo. The company is named for Wolf Ridge, a geologic rise and what was once a nearby community that was removed to make way for U.S. Army artillery training base Camp Howze in World War II.
FPL Energy claims to be the largest developer, owner and operator of wind turbines in the U.S. FPL has been in Texas since 1998 and they have 11 wind energy farms operating. There are about 50 wind farms owned by FPL throughout the U.S.
The Wolf Ridge Wind “lay down yard,” located off CR 430 and FM 371, is home to an increasing number of shipments of transformers, metal poles and other parts to build the 75 wind turbines.
The yard is closed to the general public, as are the sites where the generator’s bases are being built, out of respect for the private property owners Wolf Ridge Wind LLC. is leasing the land from.
It’s a medium-sized wind farm, company spokesmen say. In comparison, there are 421 wind generators (the preferred, industry term for the wind generator towers is “turbines”) at Horse Hollow, located outside of Abilene, and also owned by FPL Energy.
Ned Ross, director of regulatory affairs for FPL Energy, said each turbine is a complicated machine – more than just a windmill and electric generator.
“There’s as many concepts to this as you want to talk about,” Ross said, during a press tour of the site Tuesday.
In the interview, Ross said the Wolf Ridge Farm could provide enough energy to power 250 homes on a day with average wind.
The wind blades are able to be tilted by radio control for maximum wind efficiency, though automatically the blades are tilted according to readings from an anemometer.
Ross said the blades are built by GE (though unfortunately, he said, not by Molded Fiber Glass Inc, located in Gainesville), as are the generator “nacelles” – 40-foot-long housing cases which contain the turbine and electronic equipment to run the generator.
The Wolf Ridge Wind Farm Project will feature the longest blades on any wind turbine project of FPL’s yet – 132 feet in length as compared to the standard length of 123 – a nine-foot difference.
The gigantic blades have access doors at their base, to where technicians can enter the inside of the metal arms.
The blade assembly is 300 feet in diameter. Ross said within a month three special cranes (the cranes themselves will be constructed by cranes) are expected to place the blade assemblies on the towers.
“It’s going to be quite a sight,” he said.
Ross said though the towers will be visible for a long distance, the wires transmitting the electricity are underground for safety and appearance reasons. The blades, he said, have a special refracting property to where they look gray in some angles of light and bright white in others, which he said makes for an impressive view.
Property owner considerations
“I don’t know a better deal than this for the property owners,” Ross said.
He said each of the landowners are profiting from the towers, and in the event the turbines are no longer required, there is a “removal clause” in the lease, and FPL or its successor would remove them. In case FPL goes bankrupt, there is a bond to pay for the turbines’ removal, Ross said.
He said the concrete bases for the turbines are built two feet under the gradient of the land’s natural slope, so that they can be easily covered.
Some residents who opposed the turbine project were concerned for the aesthetic changes the generators would bring.
“This is one of the prettiest parts of Texas, and soon it won’t be as much,” said Marian Chappel of Saint Jo. “It sounds good in theory, but people who have checked out all that’s involved it’s not.”
A group opposing the Wolf Ridge Wind project, North Texas Wind Resistance, criticizes the actual economic benefit of the generators, and how the fluctuating flow of electricity will cause fossil fuel generators to struggle harder to keep a constant flow of power, which is required to maintain service.
The Web site also accused the wind generator business of being a “corporate tax-avoidance scam.”
Legal action was taken to prevent or at least postpone the construction of the turbines.
According to the Sept. 22, 2007, Register, a suit was filed in the 235th District Court in September 2007 by Joe O’Dell, et al., versus FPL Energy, LLP., and Hilliard Energy, Ltd., requesting relief and suing for damages.
According to FPL spokesmen no cases regarding injunctions or petitions to stop the turbines are currently in court.
FPL officials, in an attempt to maximize profits from the farm, approached various local taxing bodies about a tax abatement.
The Cooke County Commissioners Court turned down a request to grant a property tax abatement for the turbines.
In previous interviews, FPL Energy spokesmen projected to following tax revenues for the following taxing entities: Muenster ISD, $23-25 million; Saint Jo ISD, $4-5 million; Cooke County, $10-13 million; Muenster Hospital District, $4-5 million; North Central Texas Community College District, $1-2 million.
Chappel said she and husband Carl Chappel were among a list of opponents to the wind farm who doubt the efficiency.
“Number one, they’re not efficient, because wind is not a constant, and you have to have backup power to keep the power grid running,” she said. “So you still have to have traditional power plants with the wind plants.”
“A federal tax credit is what they’re for,” Chappel added. “Texas doesn’t see any of the power generated for that. The federal government gives a credit to companies that are polluting, and these companies get a credit for building wind generators and other projects. And that’s the only reason they’re out here.”
Time will tell how the newest addition to the Cooke County skyline will be received.
On the Net:
North Texas Wind Resistance:
FPL Energy, LLP:
By Andy Hogue
Register Staff Writer
14 April 2008