Brownwood High School’s Ag Issues Forum team hoped to elicit public comments at a forum Monday night on the controversial topic of wind farms in Brown County. The team got its wish.
About 40 attended the forum at the Brownwood High School auditorium, and several went forward, at the invitation of moderator and Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes, to give opinions – mostly against – on wind energy. May landowner Joe Guidry was an exception, saying those opposed to wind farms “have a biased agenda based on a multitude of different platforms.”
The Ag Issues Forum team announced earlier that the team has chosen wind energy as its topic for fall competition and scheduled Monday night’s forum “to fully investigate the pros and cons of this controversial topic.”
Local elected officials, as well as Brown County judge candidates Paul Lilly and Steve Fryar, were invited and the team sought viewpoints “to help the team formulate its presentation and also to allow viewpoints to be heard in the community,” the team said earlier.
The topic of wind farms has not come up in the Brown County Commissioners Court in recent years, although social media has been buzzing over the topic and over what is perceived as a coming battle related to tax abatements for wind farm companies.
Last week, Precinct 1 commissioner Gary Worley released a statement saying “it is my understanding that the process of leasing property for wind turbines has begun in the southwestern part of Brown County. The Brown County Commissioners Court has no voice in this process as it is a property rights issue. It is up to each individual property owner whether they lease their property or not.
“The only time that the Brown County Commissioners Court gets involved in this process is when the wind farm project comes before the court asking for a county tax abatement. Before making a vote on giving a tax abatement I will seek the opinion of the voters of Precinct 1.”
As the forum began, Ag Issues Forum team members – seated at a table on the stage – introduced themselves and each posed a question.
‒ Austin Haynes, senior: do the funds gained by school districts and landowners outweigh the cons and negatives of wind turbines?
‒ Emily Chapa, senior: in what ways are wind turbines good or harmful for the environment?
‒ Aubrey Kirk, junior: Why has the government in general chosen to fund this project?
‒ Hunter Day, sophomore: does land depreciation really become that much of an issue for landowners who want to pass their land from generation to generation and have no intent on selling?
‒ Trinitee Skelton, junior: how do wind turbines affect the birds and other wildlife on the land?
‒ Riley Morgan, freshman: how many long-term jobs do wind turbines bring into the area?
‒ Tanner Roberts, sophomore: are wind turbines only practical for larger properties?
John Daigle, who has lived near Blanket since 2014, said he could offer only one “pro” about wind turbines. “They do produce electricity,” Daigle said. “That’s the only ‘pro’ that I have. The wind turbines are so heavily subsidized that it’s hard to figure out exactly how good they are. … you need to dig deeply into the subsidizing of the product.
“From a money issue, it’s not very attractive, in my opinion. From strictly a financial standpoint, it’s not very efficient electricity in today’s environment. It’s hard to dig in to find all the details. But when you do dig in, you find that it costs an outrageous amount to produce one kilowatt of electricity.”
Topics from other speakers included the wind turbines’ effects on property values and wildlife, and the visual and audio effects of the giant turbines on a rural landscape.
Fryar, who made no mention of his race for Brown County judge, spoke for several minutes and addressed many of the questions posed earlier by the high school students. One of the questions was whether wind energy should be considered because it does not require water.
“Solar is less economical than wind,” Fryar said. “Wind is less economical than oil and natural gas when it comes to generating energy.” Fryar asked how it makes sense to try to produce less efficient and energy when oil and natural gas is produced in such high volume.
Former county commissioner Adron Beck of May said he had signed a contract to lease his property to a wind farm company several years ago. The company did not build any wind turbines because there were no close transmission lines, Beck said.
“At that time, it was a very lucrative easement, you might say, for the landowner,” Beck said. “So if and when they return, I’ll have to study it again, whether I’m going to accept or not.”
Beck said it won’t affect the value of his property if wind turbines are built on it because he doesn’t plan to sell. “Now I might agree that it affects my neighbor when he tries to sell it,” Beck said. “There are, like you say, pros and cons on wind turbines.”
Howard Berg said he owns a small ranch and friends who own property near wind farms in other counties have seen their property values fall. “I just feel like Brown County is going to be a losing proposition putting up wind turbines all over the place,” Berg said.
Saying he was quoting another opponent of wind energy, Berg added, “they’re going to go dead in 20 years and you guys are the ones who are going to have to deal with it.”
Rex Tackett, owner/partner of Wendlee Broadcasting, said he doesn’t know of anyone who is building a subdivision in the middle of a wind farm. “This is a matter of where we live, how we want to live, and I’d just as soon have a Ferris wheel next door to me 365 days a year,” Tackett said. “When I go through Goldtwhaite and look up on that hill and see all those wind turbines, I’m thinking ‘my gosh, is that I want to see every day?’”
Jessica Morgan, whose daughter, Riley, is on the Ag Issues Forum team, said she hopes to give her daughter family land. Morgan said she’s concerned her daughter will look out on the property and “and see land covered with wind farms. I’m a real sentimental kind of gal,” Morgan said.
The forum ended with May landowner Joe Guidry giving a lengthy opinion that clashed with what most of the earlier speakers had said.
“I know this is a class assignment, but other than that, I don’t know what we’re doing here,” Guidry said, “because the issue of wind farms coming to Brown County does not involve or concern public lands where everyone has a mutual and concerned interest.
“If wind farms do come to this county, it will be a private decision made by private individuals concerning the use of their private property. Outside Interference and outside influence should not be tolerated. I understand that wind farms are a controversial issue, but the issue is only controversial because certain people cannot keep their noses out of other people’s business.”
Guidry noted that opposition currently is based on subsidies and tax abatements for wind farms. “But what you need to know is that the petroleum industry is heavily, heavily subsidized,” Guidry said. “Health care is subsidized, housing is subsidized, housing is subsidized, private corporations and private businesses are subsidized.
“The poor are subsidized and the elderly are subsidized. Education is subsidized. Corn, wheat and soybeans are all subsided, and yes, the wind industry is subsidized.”
Guidry continued that many local businesses have been granted tax abatements.
“Subsidies and abatements are simply a way of doing business and a means by which goods and services are made affordable to the average consumer,” Guidry said. “That means that everyone in this room is a direct or indirect beneficiary of an subsidy or an abatement, from the cars we drive to the food that we eat to the clothes that we wear. … it’s about time that people stop giving ear to the opponents of wind industry and discover the truth.”