Wind industry still making local impact

Although growth in the area’s wind industry slowed down a couple of years ago, Greg Wortham, Sweetwater mayor and director of the Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse, said there are still things happening here with wind.Third Planet Wind is in the middle of a $100 million project in Loraine. Wortham pointed out it’s one of the few wind farm construction projects going on in the state right now. This current phase is the third for the Mitchell wind farm.Wortham said what’s different about Third Planet is that they get all the components for the turbine ready beforehand, and it’s shipped to the site and plugged into the turbine. “They are very efficient,” he said.The third phase includes 33 turbines, which can generate 50 MW of power. They currently have 67 turbines on the wind farm, according to the Colorado Record.Cliff Clement, land vice president for Third Planet Wind, told the Colorado Record that the company had originally planned to construct a total of 167 turbines with a capacity of 250 MW of power. However, due to a fall in energy prices, they have stopped at 100 for now. But Clement pointed out that they went ahead and built pads for 167 turbines along with all the necessary infrastructure so they can add the other turbines when the time is right.The Colorado Record reports that construction on the Loraine wind farm began in 2008, and the first turbines went online in 2009. The third phase is expected to be complete in February.As for the rest of the area, results of large projects constructed over the past several years are still being felt. If you drive down Highway 84 north of Roscoe, you can see a new school being constructed for Hermleigh ISD. A $12.5 million bond was passed in May of 2009 and property values have increased from $35 million to $500 million, according to Superintendent Gary Rotan, due to wind farms in the district.This additional revenue has allowed the school district to construct a new school for its approximately 230 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grades. The new facility is needed since the most recent renovations to the school was in the 1950s, and part of the current school facilities were built in 1936.While Highland ISD is in the middle of large renovation, Roscoe ISD is expected to move into a new two-story addition in January. Blackwell just finished up their new football stadium this year to go along with their new school.Wortham pointed out that the wind business has just picked up over the last month in the area with increased hiring by wind service companies.Construction of additional transmission lines is also happening slowly but consistently. There is a new substation east of Sweetwater at Adrienne Rd., and a substation in Scurry County off of Highway 84 has been expanded to handle more power, Wortham pointed out.Wortham said there is opposition in areas all over the state as to where the lines are being built, especially in the Hill Country. However, he noted that once those issues are worked out and the route of the lines are decided on after having hearings for every community, other projects in the works will be able to move forward with more lines available to them.“The Public Utility Commission (PUC) is meeting constantly to approve segments of lines,” Wortham pointed out.Wortham added that the area’s wind industry is part of the bigger conversation when it comes to energy as a whole. The Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse will host the Southwest Energy Summit in March in Odessa. Sponsors of this event will include Ludlum Measurements from the realm of nuclear energy and Tenaska from the realm of coal-powered energy production.Although the pace of growth for the wind industry has slowed, it hasn’t stopped, Wortham noted. And the positive effects brought into area rural communities will be felt for a long time.