As a 5th generation descendent of landowners in Mason County, I am extremely concerned about the new trend here in the county toward leasing property for wind power. Both sides of my family have ranched in Mason County for over 100 years: the Brandenberger family on my mother’s side, and the Toeppich family on my father’s side. My father currently serves as a County Commissioner. Therefore, our roots run deep in Mason County soil, and we have a very personal interest in preserving this beautiful area for future generations.
Mason County has been blessed with the natural beauty one can only find in a very small and unique area of Texas: the Hill Country, with its rolling landscape and clear rivers and streams. It is home to an abundance of whitetail deer, turkey, and many other species of wildlife. This makes it a mecca for tourism and outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking, to name a few, or just simply as a getaway to the peace and quiet of the beautiful countryside. As for the town itself, you do not see storefronts boarded up in Mason as in so many small Texas communities; a tribute to hard work and good management of resources. All of these wonderful advantages could be very negatively affected by wind farms.
The most obvious disadvantage to wind turbines is their extremely unsightly appearance. If you have ever been to Sweetwater, the self-proclaimed Wind Capital of Texas, you will have seen for yourself the negative effect wind turbines have on the landscape. These giants are 262 feet high with blades 131 feet long, standing on concrete bases from 15-40 feet in diameter. Additionally, power lines—which are highly visible in themselves— must be erected to transport the electricity. These power lines also require easements 40 to 60 feet wide. The visual effect of multiple turbines is like something out of science fiction.
As far as peace and quiet goes, that will be a thing of the past. The wind noise from the turbines themselves is tremendous. Also, there would be a constant barrage of workers invading your property, using heavy equipment for construction, maintenance, inspections, etc.
Wildlife populations will decrease as they vacate to areas where it is quiet and they can remain undisturbed. Gone will be the deer lease money, along with the dollars spent on gasoline, motels, groceries, deer corn, and meals consumed in the restaurants and cafes, along with many other purchases that come with hunters and tourists who choose not to vacation amid—or in sight of— a forest of metal. Also, one of the main tourist attractions in Mason County is the “Bat Cave”. Wind turbines are responsible for killing many thousands of bats annually, as they create electromagnetic fields, which draw the bats to the turbines. Loss of bats also increases the number of flying insects, particularly mosquitoes, which are the primary diet of bats.
As far as property values are concerned, having been a real estate broker for thirty-plus years, it is simply astonishing to me that property owners would even consider the placement of wind turbines on their land, especially on land as valuable as that in Mason County. Nowhere else in the Hill Country do you see wind farms—-for a good reason: land is far too expensive to devalue in such a way. I found numerous studies online which showed a decrease in property values related to wind farms anywhere from 22% to as much as 50%. Using the mid-range of these studies, this calculates to a loss of around $1000.00 per acre if applied to current ranch values in Mason County. Also, for those of you considering wind turbines on your property, please realize that you are devaluing not only your property, but your neighbors’ lands as well. In addition, this devaluation could mean a significant loss of tax dollars to the school and county, so the ripple effect would reach much farther than your own fence line.
Another disadvantage to wind farms that many people are not even aware of yet is the negative consequence to those inheriting lands with wind turbines. According to an article entitled: “Benefits Blown Away: Farmers and Ranchers Wind Energy Leases and the Estate Tax” by Jordan Veurink, a tax attorney, beneficiaries of estates with wind turbines have lost agricultural values as granted under estate tax laws. This could disqualify children and grandchildren from exemptions and burden them with additional estate taxes.
I can see only one single benefit to wind farms, and that is the relatively small amount of landowner income generated by leasing property for this purpose. Using documentation from a very wind energy-friendly publication published by The Union of Concerned Scientists, each wind turbine returns an average in the United States of $2,000 to $5,000 annually to the landowner, which translates to $20 to $50 per acre (before royalty taxes) based upon the average density of 108 acres per turbine. This revenue is based upon figures prior to January 2015 when the 2.2 cent per kilowatt hour subsidy granted by the U.S. Congress expired. Who knows if or how long this subsidy will be extended? The wind power industry is wholly based upon federal subsidies and local tax abatements. It simply will not work financially on its own. If those subsidies dry up, so will the money to the landowner.
And what about the future? If at some time in the future these subsidies are indeed discontinued, if these power companies do not make a profit, if the technology becomes obsolete, or if a more efficient and cheaper form of alternative energy is found, what happens then? Can we really count on the very expensive and complicated removal of these eyesores by power companies who no longer have any use for them? Or do they simply remain—-to be seen by our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as rusting monuments to our stupidity and greed?
Please remember this if you are considering leasing your lands for wind energy: in business the “cheese” —easy money—- is always the part of the deal that we are attracted to first. It is the “trap” that is sometimes hidden, but always there. However in this case, the trap will be in plain view for everyone to see: 262 feet tall, to be exact.
S. Scott Toeppich
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