RAYMONDVILLE – Heavy machinery is being used for road construction and site preparation for giant windmill towers being built by E.ON Climate & Renewables of Austin.
Construction began in mid-November on a site east of Raymondville, where 112 Vestas V100 1.8-megawatt wind turbines will be installed by the end of 2012, E.ON spokesman Matthew Tulis said.
The project is separate from the Duke Energy wind farm, which will have 171 turbines and also has a completion date of late 2012.
Blattner Energy Inc. is the contractor handling E.ON’s “Magic Valley” project, Tulis said, adding that the project is not affiliated with the Magic Valley Electric Cooperative, based in Mercedes.
The turbines will be 262.5 feet high, Tulis said, with blades that are 328 feet in diameter, making the total height about 426½ feet from base to blade tip.
The wind generators will provide employment, especially during the construction phases, he said,
“To date we have hired 86 people from Willacy, Hidalgo and Cameron counties,” Tulis said. “So far we have spent $350,000 on equipment repair, lumber and other costs.”
Willacy County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. said county officials and E.ON officials have been questioning whether Blattner will abide with the agreement E.ON made with the county to hire local people first, workers from the Valley second and workers from outside the area third.
“To (Blattner), the state of Texas is considered local,” he said.
Workers who come to Willacy County will be housed at local hotels and eat at local restaurants, Tulis said.
Three Rio Grande Valley contractors are working on the project, Tulis said. CEMEX, a local concrete company; Circle R Electric from Willacy County; and Jedi Pumping from Willacy County are involved in work on the project, he said.
Vestas, a company based in Denmark that builds the turbines being used for the E.ON project, has opened a manufacturing facility in Colorado, Tulis said. Turbines to be used in Willacy County are expected to arrive by the middle of the year, he said.
Although Willacy County was chosen as a site for wind turbines because of its extremely strong winds, there are times when wind speeds will be too strong and turbines will be shut down to avoid damaging the machinery, he said.
Local environmentalist Walt Kittelberger of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation said wind energy is not as “green” as its promoters claim.
The threat to birds on a major migratory route is very high, he said.
Low-frequency sound and the effect of strobes used for aircraft warning on the windmill towers also affects humans and animals, Kittelberger said.
His foundation is more concerned about a plan to build an offshore wind farm and will concentrate its efforts in fighting that project, he said.
Also, “politicians in Raymondville” were eager to bring in wind farms to benefit the local economy, Kittelberger said. But only about a half-dozen employees, likely highly skilled technicians from outside the Valley, will work for E.ON after construction is complete, he said.
Gonzales said agreements to establish the wind farms were made before he was elected, but he thinks the previous county judge and commissioners did a good job of making sure Willacy residents will benefit financially.
“We’ll be able to lower (property) taxes,” he said. E.ON, a German multinational corporation, will pay the county $200,000 a year for the first 10 years under an agreement for tax abatements, he said.
“But I agree with Mr. Kittelberger, they’re not going to be hiring many Willacy citizens,” Gonzales said. “That has been a concern of mine.”
As far as harm to birds and other environmental concerns, the county has to rely on federal government experts on those issues, the county judge said.
A purchase contract for electricity generated by the project has been signed with American Electric Power, Tulis said.
“As far as future projects go, we’ll definitely have to take a look at the market, the price of power and all that goes into consideration for building our projects,” Tulis said.
“The project we have under construction now, we are moving forward with,” Tulis said. “That’s what we would be looking at (in the future), something similar in size.”
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