HENRIETTA -- The residents of Clay County gained national attention over the summer when it was announced the county’s new Shannon Wind Farm would power Facebook’s new billion-dollar Fort Worth data center 100 miles to the southeast.
Last July, Clay County Judge Kenneth Liggett told the Star-Telegram that residents overwhelmingly supported the new wind farm near Windthorst, saying: “99 percent of folks like it. One or two don’t.”
Five months later, he said that’s no longer the case.
“It has been diminished a bunch by the actions of this group,” Liggett said. That group, Clay County Against Wind Farms, has been having meetings to raise awareness about two new proposed wind farms in the county just east of Wichita Falls.
With an estimated population of 10,370, Clay County maintains a rural feel, and rancher Forrest Baldwin wants to keep it that way.
“What we're trying to do is get folks that might be interested in wind turbines to stop and think about it a little bit,” said Baldwin, whose family owns the 7,000-acre Sanzenbacher Ranch near Henrietta, established in 1873.
“Are we really going to fundamentally transform the county from this rural setting that you see to more of an industrial type complex, and I think the majority of people now are saying, ‘No that's not what we want,’ ” Baldwin said.
To him, wind farms are a blight for several reasons, among them: They ruin the rural skyline, hurt land values and reduce the acreage used for agriculture.
On a recent visit, Baldwin, his ranch manager and a team of cowboys were branding cattle and inoculating the herd. The scene has played out here for generations — except the cowboys use electronic tags now instead of branding irons.
Baldwin, who splits time between the ranch and a home in Dallas, said he loves the untouched feel of the ranch.
“It’s 100 miles apart and two completely different worlds, and we want to keep it that way,” Baldwin said.
Some people still interested
A few miles to the southwest, Jimmy Horn has a dramatically different view on wind farms.
His company, Horn Wind Energy, helped develop the new 119-turbine, 204-megawatt Shannon Wind Farm, now operated and partly owned by Alterra Power Corp. of Canada.
During a tour of the wind farm, Horn shows off the turbines on his ranch. Horn has no problems with the wind turbines and plans to eventually build a home on the ranch, not far from his parent’s home. He currently splits time between Windthorst and his home in Austin.
The idea for two new wind farms originated with landowners, Horn said. Landowners were interested in wind farms near Byers and Petrolia, not far from the Red River, as well as near Bluegrove in the central part of the county.
“The anti-wind farm folks say how can you do that your neighbor,” Horn said. “The landowners I’m dealing with would ask why would a neighbor try to tell them what they can or cannot do with their own property.”
The landowners originally contacted Liggett, who in turn reached out to Horn.
Liggett’s involvement has drawn criticism from residents who view it as a conflict of interest. Liggett said he is working as a land man for Horn Wind Energy and has called many of the landowners to see whether they would be interested in having turbines on their property.
If a tax abatement for either project comes before Clay County commissioners, Liggett said he would recuse himself from the vote as required by law. The Shannon Wind Farm received a tax abatement from Clay County.
For now, Liggett isn’t sure whether the wind farms will ever happen.
“Some people are still interested,” Liggett said. “I think there's a good bit of intimidation with residents concerned about ‘what my neighbor would say.’ ”
Horn remains optimistic that one or both of the wind farms will eventually get built.
“The only thing that would slow it down is a fatal flaw that says those places aren’t right for wind farms or changes in the federal tax credits,” Horn said.
But he acknowledges a county tax abatement would help the project.
“Our goal is not to proceed without a tax abatement,” Horn said. “There’s a chance we might go ahead if we don’t have one. They have been built without them before.”