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Turbine plan spins onward  

Credit:  By Candace Carlisle / Staff Writer, Denton Record-Chronicle, www.dentonrc.com 13 September 2010 ~~

Wind turbines are one step closer to becoming part of the University of North Texas’ new football stadium project, following residents’ general acceptance of the proposal at a recent neighborhood meeting.

Residents’ comments and concerns are being gathered for a feasibility study on the proposal to place three wind turbines next to the stadium, near Bonnie Brae Street, said Rich Escalante, vice chancellor for administrative services with the UNT system.

“We are committed to sustainability and we would like to have or move forward toward a carbon-neutral campus,” he said. “We want a sustainable structure to use as a teaching tool and something noticeable to visitors.”

The study is being funded by a $200,000 grant awarded to UNT in mid-June by the Texas Comptroller’s State Energy Conservation Office.

Once the study is complete, the conservation office could award UNT with an additional $1.8 million to construct the wind turbines.

The proposal would need approval from the UNT president and the Board of Regents, Escalante said.

The three turbines, described by university officials as “community-scaled wind turbines,” are about 125 feet tall with a blade length of 30 feet. They would provide a portion of the electricity for UNT’s Eagle Point campus, located west of Interstate 35E.

The stadium, now under construction, is scheduled to open for next fall’s football season.

In a meeting Thursday at UNT’s Gateway Center, residents supported the idea but voiced some concerns about how much noise the turbines would produce, whether state funds would be recouped from the project and whether the turbine placement would impact property values.

Tom La Point, a nearby resident and a professor at the university, said he’s read about wind turbines affecting property values and would like the feasibility study to include an evaluation of the economic impact on the neighborhood.

“This is something we need to know as we move ahead,” La Point said. “Do we need to sell now? It’s a scary thing.”

While some studies claim that wind turbines have no adverse effect on property values, most of the studies were conducted in rural areas rather than in neighborhoods, said Dr. Jim Gaines, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.

Factors include the visual effect caused by the structures and the distance from one’s home to the turbines, he said.

“A lot of people don’t like them because of the visual image, and for a lot of people it doesn’t matter,” Gaines said.

Noise from wind turbines could significantly impact property values, since even the slightest noise placed high enough can carry for a distance, he said.

As alternative energy sources become more widespread, the placement of urban wind turbines will be studied more, Gaines said. But for now, long-term effects are unknown.

“It’s just too new to tell if there’s an impact,” he said.

Todd Spinks, director of the UNT Office of Sustainability, said he recently visited a community-scaled wind turbine and said it sounded similar to a refrigerator making ice.

“They are designed to urban areas and it’s extremely quiet, which is one of the appealing factors of them,” Spinks said.

A recent study on home sales prices showed wind energy facilities and the distance of the homes to the facilities had no widespread impacts, according to an analysis of almost 7,500 home sales conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The UNT study is being helmed by Dallas-based HKS Inc., which estimates the three wind turbines could produce 5 percent to 8 percent of the total energy needed for the Eagle Point campus.

In a heated discussion at last week’s meeting, residents and university officials clashed over possible routes for stadium traffic from Interstate 35E to the Eagle Point campus, which is tucked in a residential neighborhood.

Steve Stone, a neighborhood property owner, said he’s worried by the lack of roadway surrounding the stadium, along with heavy traffic and overall safety.

He criticized what he saw as a lack of interaction between university officials and residents at committee meetings designed nearly a year ago to open communication.

“Essentially, they patronized the neighborhood by inviting us to meetings that didn’t go anywhere,” Stone said.

Source:  By Candace Carlisle / Staff Writer, Denton Record-Chronicle, www.dentonrc.com 13 September 2010

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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