SARITA — Johnny Vela, among the latest in a long line of Kenedeños who have worked for generations as coastal cowboys in South Texas, knows the friendly history of the legendary side-by-side Kenedy and King ranches.
“That’s what we’ve always thought,” said Vela, standing outside his modest home a couple of blocks from the Kenedy County courthouse.
Vela and other townsfolk also know that nearly a century and a half of peaceful coexistence has been shattered — and not because of rustling, fences or anything else that might have set neighboring ranches to battle in the Texas of yesteryear.
This modern fight is about wind-powered turbines, namely those the Kenedy’s overseers want and the King’s operators don’t. And instead of duking it out on their vast expanses of largely unspoiled range, it’s a war of words mostly waged in office buildings in Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and even Portland, Ore.
Two area wind energy opponents filed a lawsuit Monday against the Taylor County Commissioners Court for granting what the plaintiffs say are illegal tax abatements to wind farms developed within the county.
According to the lawsuit, wind energy equipment is not eligible for tax abatements under the state tax code.
In 2004 and 2006, Taylor County commissioners granted five tax abatements potentially worth $5 million to $10 million to three companies that have built farms of wind turbines in rural areas of the county.
"That's my money the county is giving away illegally. We're asking the court to rectify this," said Dale Rankin, one of two plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Texas has a commanding lead over other states in wind power production, as turbines supply 8 percent of the state grid's power. But the looming expiration of a federal tax credit jeopardizes the boom - and Texas' congressional delegation, for the most part, does not appear to be clamoring loudly to save it.
Between the windy flats of West Texas, where wind farms have sprouted like bluebonnets, and the population centers of the central and eastern parts of the state, where electricity is consumed at a growing rate, sits the rolling land of the Hill Country.
Landowners there are banding together in the face of a state plan to ship wind power across the area on transmission lines built and operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Oil, gas and wind energy producers are working to persuade federal wildlife officials not to enact protections for the lesser prairie chicken, a move that could force them to halt or significantly alter their operations to protect the species' dwindling grassland habitat.
Irish renewable energy company Airtricity said on Tuesday it had secured $85 million in equity funding to help develop its Sand Bluff wind farm project near Big Spring, Texas.
“We are pleased to have entered into this equity financing with investors led by JPMorgan Capital Corporation,” Airtricity Chief Executive Eddie O’Connor said in a statement.
Airtricity said its 90 megawatt Sand Bluff wind farm, which is under construction, was expected to start commercial operation during the second quarter of 2007.
The deal is the latest in a series of agreements to secure funding for a number of wind farms planned by privately owned Airtricity, in the United States, Ireland and the UK.
"Unfortunately, electric power generated from wind energy is intermittent and variable. That means we need to have better measurements of wind power plants' output as we integrate wind energy into existing power systems. We also need to develop a way of managing wind power so it can be more readily called upon when needed."
"There has been exactly zero reports that have been released to the public in Texas about environmental concerns in Texas from wind projects," said Michael Fry, director of conservation advocacy at the American Bird Conservancy. "The coastal plain of Texas is one of the most important migratory corridors for birds and we would like to see some kind of evaluation before projects are going on down there."