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Central Texas landowners are shutting down wind turbines as politicians rail against renewable energy

Local Today|Morgan Mccarthy|August 25, 2022
TexasGeneral

PRAIRIE HILL — James Lyles brought a dusty four-wheeler to a halt at the fence line. He answered the how-does-question in the best way a farmer could do that summer.

“Hot,” he said, pointing to the ghost of a cornfield. Stifling heat and piercing clouds forced Lyles to harvest a month earlier, which reduced yields from their typical production of 130 to 150 bushels to 80 bushels per acre.

“It got too hot, too soon,” he said.

But Lyles doesn’t worry about the weather as much as he used to. He has had a 30-year lease two years ago with a renewable energy company that has built four large turbines on his land for a set fee plus a share of the electricity revenue. In a typical year, the extra money would help Lyles pay off land and equipment loans and get a head start on his next crop. This year, the $48,000 in lease payments and royalties will just about cover its losses from the drought.

“My banker is much happier knowing I have these windmills,” he said.

The 200-ton ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]

     

PRAIRIE HILL — James Lyles brought a dusty four-wheeler to a halt at the fence line. He answered the how-does-question in the best way a farmer could do that summer.

“Hot,” he said, pointing to the ghost of a cornfield. Stifling heat and piercing clouds forced Lyles to harvest a month earlier, which reduced yields from their typical production of 130 to 150 bushels to 80 bushels per acre.

“It got too hot, too soon,” he said.

But Lyles doesn’t worry about the weather as much as he used to. He has had a 30-year lease two years ago with a renewable energy company that has built four large turbines on his land for a set fee plus a share of the electricity revenue. In a typical year, the extra money would help Lyles pay off land and equipment loans and get a head start on his next crop. This year, the $48,000 in lease payments and royalties will just about cover its losses from the drought.

“My banker is much happier knowing I have these windmills,” he said.

The 200-ton towers, nearly the height of a football field, are becoming more common along central Texas highways and FM roads. Developers promise economic benefits to rural communities, particularly through tax revenue for local schools. The turbines themselves may surprise passers-by who took them for a West Texas phenomenon.

One of the most active players in communities like this is Engie, a French power generation company with North American headquarters in Houston. The Prairie Hill Wind Farm northeast of Waco began generating electricity in December 2020 with 100 turbines covering 30,000 acres and a substation that connects it to the state power grid. It has a production capacity of 300 megawatts per day, enough to power every home in Galveston County for a year.

Engie has two energy projects under construction nearby: the similarly sized Limestone Wind project and the 250-megawatt Sun Valley Solar project. Both should be operational by the end of the year. In 2023, Engie plans to add 100 megawatts of battery storage at Sun Valley to store electricity that can be released when needed.

This gives Engie seven wind and four solar projects in Texas with a combined capacity to generate more than 2.2 gigawatts of electricity. That’s just over half of the company’s total solar and wind capacity for the U.S. and Canada, said North American vice president of operations Russ Young.

Executives are eagerly poring over the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act in search of even more opportunities, Young said. The legislation provides billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives to increase renewable energy and related manufacturing to reduce carbon emissions.

Julie Vitek, vice president of government and regulatory affairs, said Engie, the world’s largest independent power generation company, decided seven or eight years ago to focus on developing the “cleanest” energy options and has since sold most of its 70+ natural gas fired power plants with a focus on wind and sun.

Even before the Inflation Mitigation Act, the company was on track to add more renewable energy capacity in 2022 than any previous year, Vitek said.

The North American hub employs more than 600 people in Houston and has a 24-hour trading desk to monitor electricity demand and price fluctuations.

Texas is already a national leader in renewable energy, and the industry is growing fast. According to analysis by Enersection, a Houston-based startup that creates data-driven insights into the energy business, wind generation increased 32 percent year over year in May and was 63 percent higher than in May 2018.

Solar power generation, while still a fraction of the total in Texas, is up 545 percent from 2018.

Only eight states collectively produce more electricity than Texas from renewable sources alone, said Jeff Davies, co-founder of Enersection.

Building new wind and solar projects on the prairie east of the traditional base of wind power in West Texas brings Engie closer to established transmission lines that can serve metropolitan areas like Houston and San Antonio more efficiently.

That requires plentiful land and accessible owners. Lyles, who owns 735 acres, is one of 78 landowners who have signed leases with Engie for the Prairie Hill wind project.

Lyles said he was “on the fence” when the first land agent showed up. He has made trips to West Texas and an Engie wind farm in Goldthwaite to see how the industry fits into a farming environment. That allayed concerns about noise, aesthetics, damage to roads and infrastructure.

After two years of operation, Lyles said he enjoys working with Engie and enjoys well-maintained gravel roads to the turbines on his properties.

He also said livestock and wildlife are indifferent to the gleaming steel structures, each with a trio of 220-foot-long, 40,000-pound blades that lash past their tips at a deceptively fast speed of 183 miles per hour.

“It didn’t deter the (wild) hogs,” Lyles said with an annoyed smile. “They’re still eating my corn. I wish it would.”

He said his neighbors seem to have at least gotten used to them, too. This includes a large landowner whose first reaction was, “I wish they would keep them out in West Texas.” However, his adult children did their research and persuaded him to sign leases for several of them.

Engie spent $300 million to get Prairie Hill Wind up and running, and the Limestone plant is expected to cost about the same.

Buddy McKay, site manager for the new project, had 359 workers on site this month as he led a bumpy tour of the badly rutted 38,000-acre site.

Towers and blades in various stages of assembly paid homage to superlatives: a tower base lying on its side measured 15 feet in diameter; Next-generation blades are two-piece so tips can be swapped out as they erode.

Projects like these show how much investment capital for renewable energies flows into republican strongholds, despite the political rhetoric of many right-wingers.

For example, metropolitan democracies need to diversify their energy sources but do not have the available land to build larger wind or solar farms.

OFFSHORE: Feds want to help build a wind farm larger than the city of Houston off the coast of Galveston

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress voted unanimously against the Inflation Reduction Act, even as their districts stand ready to reap the expected benefits of increased spending on renewable energy initiatives.

Business is done away from the limelight.

“There’s a codependency that nobody really acknowledges,” Davies said.

Enersection found that Republicans represent 41 of the 50 US congressional districts with the most capital for renewable energy projects. That’s 82 percent. Limestone County, home of the Prairie Hill project, won 3-1 for Donald Trump in 2020.

Twenty-seven of Texas’ 36 congressional districts have at least some renewable projects in operation or on the books; Republicans lead all but six of those districts, including the four largest and eight of the 10 home to the lion’s share of wind and solar projects.

“At the end of the day, people are motivated by money,” Davies said, “and there’s a lot of money involved in these projects.”

At the 117-year-old Watson Feed Store in Mart, the closest town to the Prairie Hill site, most of the grumbling about the hulks on the horizon was in the past tense, referring to the stage of construction. Customers complained of cows becoming detached when a crew cut through a fence to move components into place.

People seem to have accepted her, albeit reluctantly.

“I’m not going to say I’m for them,” said feed business manager Blake Sielaff. But he added, “I can’t come out and say I’m against them.”

“Overall, our community has benefited,” he said.

Business in the feed store picked up, Sielaff said, especially when there were a few hundred construction workers in town. And the mayor of Mart appears in a promotional video for Engie, gushed about the good fortune for the local schools.

But when Sielaff or his long-standing customers see that one of the turbines is down or being worked on, they wonder if the machines are already worn out. They are also not convinced that wind energy can do without government subsidies.

Whenever Lyles hears the no about subsidies, he replies that he knows how much the turbines cost and he can use his royalty checks to calculate how much they make in return.

“They’re going quiet,” Lyles said. “You can’t argue with numbers I’ve seen myself.”

Enersection’s Davies said evidence is mounting that the facilities will thrive with or without government help. He named a company that gave 100 percent of its production tax credits to the host community, in addition to royalties and lease payments to landowners.

“I’m not attached to the subsidy issue,” he said.

Back at Watson Feed, client Calvin Jones Jr., a rancher and Mart Native, illustrated the local ambivalence. First, he said he was hoping to lease some of his property to Engie, but the company decided to build elsewhere. Instead, he gets paid $1,200 a year for running a transmission line across his property. Then he pointedly said the turbines aren’t as carbon-free as people say because it takes a lot of oil to lubricate all those generators.

Still, he acknowledged a direct benefit that has made life better for him.

“All I know,” he said on the way out of the store, “is that I have the best road I’ve ever had.”

Content truncated due to possible copyright. Use source link for full article.


Source:https://localtoday.news/tx/ce…

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