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Wind, solar facilities unlikely for Midland County

Renewable energy sources are increasing in popularity in West Texas. In recent years, there has been an increasing of solar projects in the region alongside wind turbines. But while many surrounding counties witness renewable energy farms taking shape, wind and solar developers may face more hurdles when looking at Midland County. These hurdles include cost of acreage in Midland County compared to surrounding counties and lower wind velocity.

“Developers that have any acreage around here are selling anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 an acre,” said Midland County Commissioner Robin Donnelly. “Down in Crane and Upton County, and probably even in Dawson County and Andrews County, it’s about $3,000 an acre. There’s a huge margin between what acreage costs you here, and what it costs you in these rural counties.”

Though Midland County is hemmed in by wind projects in Upton, Ector, Andrews, Dawson, Howard, Martin and Glasscock counties, according to data from the wind industry website Wind Power, Midland doesn’t have quite the same high-velocity blustery weather. Without any raised topographic mesas, such as those found near Howard County or Upton County, the wind velocity in Midland County is considerably weaker than surrounding counties.

“Wind in West Texas seems to always blow, but that’s not true for everywhere,” said Bob Trentham, a senior lecturer of geology at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. “But when it does blow, it gets kind of squeezed as it goes up into these higher areas, and that increases its velocity. There are places where the wind velocity is higher, but we don’t have any areas like that prominently in Midland County.” Another hurdle is that, between the cotton farms, ranchland and, most significantly, oil and gas easements and pipelines crisscrossing the countryside, Midland County is a tight fit.

“In the Permian Basin, there’s a lot of existing oil and gas infrastructure. It’s difficult to justify financially those type of sites,” Randy Sowell, an Upton County-based wind and solar development consultant, said last summer. “There are so many easements and so many underground pipelines.”

Developers of solar and wind projects often have to forge surface use agreements with owners of the mineral rights, and the finances for such projects in close proximity to oil and gas infrastructure could not tolerate the uncertainty of possible litigation, said Sowell, who has played a role in many area projects. Coordination with mineral rights owners can be paramount, according to John Huffaker, vice president of Commercial Operations at San Antonio-based OCI Solar.

“That’s part of our consideration too. How difficult will it be to reach an agreement with those mineral rights owners. That’s one of the many factors that we look at,” Huffaker said. “It becomes more challenging and more expensive to reach agreements at times. There’s a way to work it out; it’s mostly just a matter of time.”

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Area wind projects

 – Andrews County came to an agreement in August with solar developers for creation of the Andrews 7, an 80-megawatt, $100 million project. The project, which is Andrews County’s second solar farm, will receive an 80 percent tax abatement over seven years, yet is expected to generate $1.3 million in tax revenue, according to a recent Reporter-Telegram report.

 – Dawson County in July reached agreement for its second solar farm – a 150-megawatt project that, after obtaining its own local tax abatements, would begin construction within the first months of 2016, according to a Lamesa Press Reporter report.  – Just south of Midland in Upton County, the Castle Gap 116-megawatt facility will sell its energy to Dallas when it is completed next year and is the biggest solar deal in the country, according to Fuel Fix. – Further south in Pecos County, OCI Solar Power has begun construction on the largest solar farm in Texas. It will provide 400 megawatts of solar energy to the Texas grid, according to a press release.