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Wind energy goes big in Texas

Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - 2:05am


Rain Mountain LLC


Check out any old Western movie and you’re bound to see tumbleweeds rolling across the open prairie. One thing we learned from those old films is that beside cowboys and Indians, outlaws and sheriffs, two other things that Texas had, and still has a lot of, is open space and wind.

The open space gave rise to a booming cattle ranching industry long ago, although it has been suffering recently from a drought that has cost farmers and ranchers billions. The move to exploit the state’s abundant wind resource came more recently.

They did that through the construction of massive wind farms. We tend to associate renewable power with liberals and environmentalists, not something you’d expect to see a lot of in oil- and gas-rich Texas. But it happened anyway. It didn’t just happen, of course. Strong state government incentives somehow survived administration changes that went from liberal Ann Richards to conservatives such as George W. Bush and Rick Perry. It’s a model that few other states have followed, although many more could benefit from.

In fact, it’s the drought — which scientists agree is at least indirectly caused by climate change (because warmer temperatures increase the likelihood of drought) — that, having brought those farmers and ranchers to the brink of disaster, also has led to their enthusiastic embrace of wind power. Many farmers say it's the only way they've been able to hold onto their land.

"We rarely talked about the environment," recalled Michael Osborne, co-founder of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance and developer of the state’s first wind farm in the early 1990s. "We talked about farmers and ranchers getting rich on windmills."

The regular income generated by wind turbines keeps the lights on in ranchers’ homes, regardless of how their herds might be faring. Annual land lease payments last year, which went mostly to farmers and ranchers, were in excess of $60 million.