Dr. Paul Burns, a physician who owns ranchland in Brown County, was a pastor in the pulpit Tuesday night in Henrietta, railing against the evils of wind energy companies and the spoiled state they leave rural counties in.
His congregation was about 150 concerned landowners opposed to the construction of electricity-producing wind turbines in Clay County. There was standing room only as attendees packed The Rock Barn, 100 E. Wichita St., forming a rough half-circle around Burns as he boomed out from behind a lectern.
"Before we permanently change this county, we need to think about it very hard," Burns said. "You are naive if you think a Wall Street company cares about Clay County."
Last year, Canadian alternative energy company Alterra Energy Corp. acquired ownership of the Shannon 1 wind farm in far southwest Clay County. The development is valued at $250 million and was constructed with the assistance of tax abatements.
Officials have said the wind farm will raise at least $8 million in county revenue over the next decade.
Now a wind energy company apparently is hoping to advance its position in Clay County — a possibility that a sizable number of rural landowners in the county don't relish. More than 100 petitions were signed Tuesday to stop the construction of additional wind farms in Clay County.
"The rumbling is loud in Clay County," said John Greer, a member of activist group Clay County Against Wind Farms.
At Tuesday's forum, physician Burns relayed a story to attendees about the time he and his family were approached by a wind energy representative looking to lease the Burns' land near Brownwood. He said a slick, silver-tongued salesman said that wind energy would be a profitable enterprise for the Burns family and for the county, schools and hospital district.
But upon researching the subject, Burns said he decided against putting turbines on his ranch. Even more research led him to believe that the 400-foot-tall turbines, and the people who profit from their installation on pristine, rural land, were something of a plague on small ranching communities.
"They told us it would help our county — it hurt our county," Burns said. "It destroys the savings and land value of small- and moderate-sized landowners."
Alterra Energy Corp. did not return a Times Record News call to comment on this story Wednesday. The American Wind Energy Association told a reporter it did not comment on specific jobs.
In stark contrast to Burns' remarks, County Judge Kenneth Liggett called the Shannon 1 wind farm "a blessing." Liggett has been accused by some county residents of working on behalf of wind companies for profit.
"The present wind farm will make a tremendous difference in helping our county survive and keeping the hospital open," Liggett said.
In his talk, Burns said that's what the wind companies want residents to believe: that revenue from energy produced by windmills will substantially fund projects that are in the public's best interest. But the companies leave little money behind for communities, instead sucking up tax credits and littering the landscape with discarded machinery, he said.
"The only thing they plan on leaving in Clay County is old, worn-out turbines," Burns said. "No one cares about Clay County but you."
From the back of the meeting room, one man muttered: "That's pretty scary stuff."
Burns also said the installation of turbines reduces a property's value by half, making it virtually unsalable. The windmills drive away wildlife which could be hunted and may take up valuable property area even years after they've become defunct.