TX Panhandle – Opportunities in the Wind

“If you build it, he will come,” quoted Gary Gunner, one of the Route 66 Wind Project landowners.

Gunner couldn’t have referenced a more appropriate movie line from Field of Dreams. By building out transmission lines in five zones, they have come - investors, developers and countless wind projects.

Wind energy is booming in the TX Panhandle. And I thought I’d be biking through oil fields. Myth busted.

  1. TX is the #1 wind state in the country
  2. TX also leads the nation with 17,000 wind industry jobs
  3. TX receives more than 10% of its electricity from wind

Route 66 Wind Project

Biking through the wind project was one of the most glorious moments I felt on Route 66. While it has been fun to experience the past, I couldn’t be more excited for the "Mother Road's" future.

This project is catapulting Route 66 into a highway of the future. Here are the fast facts of the Route 66 Wind Project.

  • There are 75 Vestas turbines, 262 feet tall.
  • Each turbine is 2-Megawatts. The solar panel I’m towing is 240-watt, so one of these turbines is equivalent to 8,333 of my solar panels. Or the whole project is over 1.2 million of my panels.
  • Total size is 150-Megawatts, enough to power roughly 49,000 TX homes annually.
  • I’d estimate it costs between $3 million to $4 million with transmission for each Megawatt.

The project has been a tremendous opportunity for the community. I spoke to two locals who are now benefiting from wind.

Revenue Opportunity

Gary Gunner is one of roughly 20 landowners who together have repurposed 16,000 acres of dry land farming into wind farming. Between Gary and his family they have 24 of the 75 turbines on their land.

What does this mean?

As Gary said, it is a revenue opportunity far greater than he can produce cultivating the land with wheat and seed grain. You see this land has no irrigation. All crops grow with whatever rainfall they get. And the strong winds whipping through the Panhandle has typically had a detrimental effect on crops.

Gary couldn't be more thrilled that he is finally harnessing the power of the wind. “I like the wind a lot better than I used to,” said Gary.

The community is also benefiting from property tax revenue, job creation and rural economic revitalization. The design and construction company erecting the project, Mortenson, will utilized nearly 60 businesses throughout the state and 21 businesses within a 50-mile radius of the project. They estimate the project will bring $2 million to the local economy. I didn’t hear one complaint from the locals about wind energy.

Career Opportunity

I was able to talk to Jon Trask a local from Amarillo and a crane operator who has now installed 300 wind towers to date. He is proud of the industry he works in.

Team Mortenson. Jon in the middle.

Team Mortenson. Jon in the middle.

While the oil industry has opportunities for crane operators, he finds it too dangerous. They don’t have the same focus on safety. Construction company Mortenson rigorously tracks the number of safe days, with the high of 160 consecutive safe days on this project. Jon said things fall through the cracks in other industries.

Also, the wind industry allows him to advance his skill set. A typical job allows him to perform roughly six crane lifts a day. On this project he did 10 lifts a day with some loads as heavy as 230,000 pounds. Now add the wind factor, and you'll know that takes skill. It was clear that Jon felt pride in his work.

This project has had at times 240 people working to erect these towers. It has provided opportunities for not only Jon but for many other locals. As Jon said, wind has taken from the farmers for so long. It’s great to get something back from the wind.

Takeaway

It is a win that SB931 did not pass, which would have limited adding and expanding transmission lines in TX. While we have to take a strategic approach in laying out these lines, they are the starter for wind projects igniting countless opportunities.