A controversy that has divided Hamilton County landowners could have implications for Lampasas County residents as well.
Lampasas County property owner and energy lawyer William Osborn is working with French-based EDF Renewables on a potential wind farm in Hamilton County.
While offers of royalties have interested some landowners there, others are vocally opposed to the turbines – which they say could hurt property values and wildlife.
The proposed Vista Mountain Wind Project would stretch northwest from U.S. Highway 84 nearly to Indian Gap and west to the Mills County line, according to the Hamilton Herald-News.
Adamsville-area property owner Clint Van Trease is concerned the wind project could lead to turbine installation in this county.
Currently Hamilton County has no wind turbines within its borders, according to Hamilton County Commissioner Precinct 4 Dickie Clary. Clary also said he understood it was unlikely the project would expand south of the county line.
“Initially, Mr. Osborn had made some statement to me that the orientation of the hilltop mountain range as it connects to Lampasas County is not ideal for positioning wind turbines …,” the Hamilton County commissioner said. “[Osborn] gave some indication that he had no plans in trying to take the project south into Lampasas County.”
Mills County has had wind turbines for several years – with the project financed by Invenergy, LLC, based in Chicago.
Both supporters and opponents have claimed wind energy’s effect on property values, however Mills County Appraiser Codi McCarn said, “We don’t have anything based on sales information to show that it’s affected values.”
Clary said in his county the issue of turbines has “become very controversial.”
The commissioner also said there “appears to be a large number of people both supportive and opposed to it.”
EDF Renewables has requested a tax abatement from Hamilton County, but the commissioners court had taken no action on the possible abatement as of Thursday, Clary said.
The energy company also requested an abatement from Hamilton Independent School District. HISD Superintendent Clay Tarpley confirmed that the school board has accepted an application for review, but it had not determined whether it would offer an abatement.
Regardless of whether tax abatements are approved, Clary said county commissioners are not likely to play a deciding role in whether the wind project comes through the area.
“Nor does any commissioners court in the state have the authority to stop this industry from coming into this county,” Clary said. “It’s basically a private property rights issue.”
Clary also said the numbers suggested for the project range from 100 to 150 wind turbines that eventually could be installed in Hamilton County.
Southwest Hamilton County Wildlife Management Association has voiced its opposition to the project, as has the group Save our Heritage.
Although he has heard from supporters of the wind turbines, Clary did not mention a particular coalition they are connected with.
Van Trease has raised several objections to wind turbines, arguing they are noisy, disrupt views of the natural landscape, could cause the death of birds and possibly affect people’s health adversely.
In a recent Hamilton Herald-News article, Osborn disputed some of those objections, but he conceded there is a potential effect on wildlife.
“Wind turbines do kill some birds and bats,” he said. “This issue has been very heavily studied, and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department discourages the location of wind farms within close proximity to large bat colony caves.
“With regard to birds, it is widely reported there are far more of them killed by house cats than wind turbines,” the energy attorney said.
Osborn also told the Herald-News, “These are not loud machines,” and that ruined views were a subjective argument.
In that July newspaper article, Osborn said a wind lease at current power prices should yield $75-$100 per acre. And he contends that property owners’ right to enter a lease outweighs objections from neighbors regarding landscape views.
“Texas remains, so far, a state that allows fairly free use of private property, and the larger community is not hurt, but rather helped, by economic development and a vastly increased tax base,” he told the Herald-News.
Van Trease told the Dispatch Record the size of the turbines – some 500 feet tall – would make it extremely difficult to remove at any time in the future if they stop working or are no longer needed.
Faced with a similar argument, Osborn told the Herald-News, “The lease form will have a provision that after the first decade, a removal bond will have to be posted to protect landowners from having to bear any cost of removal of the towers. They are made of steel, which has over the years always had a melt value for scrap and reuse.”
Key points about wind turbines
Supporters say landowners will benefit from royalties, public entities could see increased revenue, and the decision to lease is a private property right.
Opponents say wind turbines could disturb wildlife and landscape views, cause noise disturbances, be burdensome to remove, and in some cases pose a health risk to humans sensitive to blinking lights.
Different groups have opposing views on the project’s impact on property values, but a neighboring county appraiser said no evidence was available to show any direct effect on property values.
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