West Texas Town Builds Future Prosperity around Wind Power

By Bill Hanna Fort Worth Star-Telegram | THE JOURNAL RECORD, August 29, 2002 | Go to article overview
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West Texas Town Builds Future Prosperity around Wind Power

Bill Hanna Fort Worth Star-Telegram, THE JOURNAL RECORD

McCAMEY, Texas -- In this small west Texas town where oil was once king, another source of energy is turning on the horizon.

Lining the 3,000-foot mesas that surround the small town of McCamey are hundreds of wind turbines that shimmer in the morning sunlight.

Billed as the wind-energy capital of Texas -- and by some residents as the next wind capital of the world -- McCamey is hoping that wind power will replace oil and gas as the region's economic gusher.

Like wildcatters before them, wind experts from Great Britain, Germany and Japan have intermingled with old-time ranchers in this distant locale. Add in power companies from as far away as Florida, and McCamey has become an unusual crossroads for clean energy.

Last year, the amount of wind power exploded across Texas, with more than 956 megawatts added in the Lone Star State -- and 621 of those megawatts were generated in three counties surrounding McCamey.

Now, there are 1,100 megawatts of wind power statewide, which can power 264,000 to 330,000 homes per year, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That is nearly a fourth of the 4,265 megawatts of wind power generated nationwide.

Texas has a wind potential of 1.19 trillion kilowatt-hours, meaning it is theoretically possible for the state to produce that much power each year. That rate is second in the country only to North Dakota, according to the wind energy association. Texas trails only California in the amount of wind power generated now.

But many wind-power enthusiasts predict that it's only a matter of time before Texas leads the nation.

Nowhere is the growth more apparent than atop a mesa just north of McCamey, where the 214 turbines of the world's largest wind farm, King Mountain Ranch, turn at sunrise.

The turbines can operate on wind as light as 8 mph and as strong as 65 mph, and are capable of producing more than 278 megawatts of electricity per year.

"Texas is blessed with an abundance of wind, with 810 megawatts in west Texas alone. That is why we're there," said Carol Clawson, a spokeswoman for Florida-based FPL Energy, which owns King Mountain Ranch and two other wind plants in the McCamey area that produce more than 513 megawatts per year.

FPL, a wholesaler, sells its power to such companies as TXU and Reliant Energy.

Wind energy has provided an economic shot in the arm for ranchers and has brought brief booms of construction activity as projects are built.

The three counties where the farms have been built -- Upton, Pecos and Crockett -- have negotiated with the companies that operate the farms for tax abatements varying from three to 10 years.

Austin-based Cielo Wind Power and FPL employ a few residents to help maintain the wind farms.

"I think it will really provide a boost to this area and help replace some of what has been lost by the slump in the oil and gas industry," said Randy Sowell of Cielo Wind Power.

"I'm really hoping we'll see some tangible signs of it helping the economy in both McCamey and Rankin especially. Both of these towns need the boost."

McCamey Mayor Sherry Phillips said residents have slowly come to accept the wind farms that now ring the small town.

"Everything was tied to oil. We were definitely an oil town," Phillips said. "Initially people were very skeptical, but they've started to come around. Most people realize the wind farms are a boon to our economy. They know you have to offer something like abatements if you want to attract any new industry, especially out in this remote area."

Down the road on the Upton/Crockett county line, Cielo plans to build the Noelke Hill Wind Ranch. The farm will have 240 turbines and produce 240 megawatts per year, officials said.

Crockett County Judge Johnny Jones said his county is unique.

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