A group of Val Verde County landowners opposing wind farm development here are broadening their efforts and say they’d like to meet with the Chinese owners of the wind farm properties.
Randy Nunns, president of the Devils River Conservancy, a Devils River landowner and one of the organizers of Don’t Blow It Texas, a group organized to oppose future wind farm development in Val Verde County, spoke about the group’s efforts in a recent interview.
“A lot of us that own land out in the county were a little surprised when the first wind farm showed up, and that seems to be the business model: They don’t want to raise the alarm with the locals, so they kind of go under the radar and try to get things done as quickly as they can. Evidence of that is the ‘Rocksprings Val Verde’ wind company. They called it Rocksprings because that’s the county seat of Edwards County, but it’s really closer to Del Rio,” Nunns said.
“There was a large group of landowners here in Val Verde that are concerned about the impacts of that and their respective property rights. This is a very strong state for private property rights, and we belong to that line of thinking, and we believe we can do whatever we can on our individual properties, as long as it doesn’t harm our neighbors,” he added.
Nunns said members of the group organized to promote “thoughtful regulation of wind energy development,” christened “Don’t Blow It Texas,” is aware that wind farm developers can’t be prevented from pursuing future construction here.
“There’s no laws against it. What’s going on is totally legal, but we wish that there’d be a little more community input. Part of the requirements for establishing a wind farm is that there is a public comment period. This wind farm out there had one, allegedly, but they reported no public comments, so the local community really didn’t have a say.
“However, when they went to the San Felipe Del Rio public school district and the Val Verde County Commissioners Court, asking for tax abatements, those two entities said no, and at least from what the commissioners have told me, they don’t want that development,” Nunns said.
There is currently only one wind farm in the county.
“The first thing people say is, ‘You’re against renewable energy,’ and that’s wrong. We’re not, absolutely. Some of us are conservative politically, and there are some of us who are progressive, and we all agree that our country needs to pursue alternative energy sources. What we’re saying is, we need to be a little more thoughtful about it.
“The Nature Conservancy has come up with a term called ‘development by design’ and others have come up with the term ‘energy sprawl,’ because there’s no regulation, to speak of, of wind farms in Texas. They’re spreading like crazy and going from appropriate areas and now they’re tapping into some of our scenic areas where folks don’t want to have them,” Nunns said.
He said the owners of the current development – Ricksprings Val Verde Wind LLC – are considering expansion.
Nunns said the current development includes 69 towers on 15,000 acres of land.
“It’s a little complicated, as this particular development is operated by a French company called Akuo, but there’s 11 property owners involved in this, but the vast majority of that acreage is owned by a Chinese corporation, and we suspect they were the anchor, because the developer that bought the ranch, he’s from east Texas, without any local roots, flipped it to this organization, which is in the tax records as Brazos Highlands Properties, and they got the approval to put in a wind farm there. Then they went to the adjoining neighbors and said do you want to join us, and whether they wanted to or not, you’re going to be looking at these things right next door, so they cobbled on 10 smaller properties, but it’s a 15,000-acre wind farm with 69 turbines, but 8,000 of that is Brazos Highlands,” Nunns said.
He contends the local families that sold their properties to the east Texas developer did not realize what was going to be done with the land.
He said the Chinese corporation behind the current development now owns a total of 130,000 acres of land in central and northern Val Verde County where future development could take place.
“These are Chinese nationals who own this company. They don’t live here either, and there’s a lot of things wrong with that. One thing that’s concerning to the city and the county is the threat to the mission at Laughlin, because even though they’re 25 miles away from the base, it does interfere with their radar systems, and if there’s BRAC decision-makers, and they’re looking at cutting back on missions and bases, they might say, ‘This training base can only fly north since they can’t go into Mexico,’ so if that northern area gets even more obstructed, they might say let’s shut that one down,” Nunns said.
He also said he believes more wind farm development will interfere with border law enforcement flights.
“The federal government is concerned about foreign investment along the border as well . . . We’re all about freedom and doing what you want and the American dream, but we’ve actually connected the dots to the principals in this organization, and they’re a multinational conglomerate energy and real estate development corporation, and just as a matter of Chinese law, you have to be a member of the Communist Party. That’s how you get along there. It’s all legal and everything, but this close to the border, 500-foot towers, who knows?” Nunns said.
He said concern about the wind farm development is sending out regional ripples as well.
“It’s all the tourists that come here to get away from it all, and not just the paddlers, but the deer hunters. They want to drive from Houston to go to their Val Verde County deer lease, and they want to get away from all the industrialization, and they don’t want to be looking at that,” Nunns said.
The wind farm adversely impacts foraging bats that roost in caves in the county, Nunns said.
“They can be impacted, it’s my understanding, in two ways: direct contact with the turbine blades, and the change in air pressure around the rotors explodes their lungs,” he said.
He said on July 26, his group met with an Austin group, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think-tank who lobby for conservative issues: personal responsibility, liberty, low taxes, low regulation.
“The TPPF is against subsidies, which they consider corporate welfare. If a business can’t get along on its own and be profitable, they feel that the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. So that’s their big thing, so they had a couple of these town halls around the state, and they’re against the subsidies,” Nunns said.
Don’t Blow It Texas members are now working to speak with state legislators and other elected officials.
“We’re exploring legislation, but we’re in an anti-regulation state, so it may be a long battle,” Nunns said.
He said another option may be to work with the owners of the wind farm property to develop other sources of revenue for the land.
Nunns also said he is not opposed to meeting with the Chinese owners of the wind farm and the as-yet vacant properties elsewhere in the county.
“We’re not anti-Chinese, but we’d like to be good neighbors, and in their defense, they probably don’t know of these treasures that we have and how valuable this wilderness is to us. It’s not a cornfield in Kansas, so we would like to get to know them and educate them and explore alternatives,” he said.
Nunns also said there are areas of the United States and Texas where wind farm development would be welcomed.