Willacy (Texas) may get wind farm

The $400 million wind farm would have 160 to 175 wind turbines that would be about 450 feet tall, said Robert Pena, a spokesman for Texas Energy, a company assisting Duke in the project. The wind turbines would have a "wingspan" of 330 feet, he said.

The number of wind turbines depends on which manufacturer is chosen by Duke, Milton R. Howard, a Duke spokesman, said at a Monday night public hearing on the project. The project hinges on Duke’s ability to secure enough contracts to sell the electrical power and approval by Duke’s board of directors, he said.

If completed, this would be the third wind farm in South Texas, with two others proposed. Two wind farms have already been built in Kenedy County.

Chicago-based E.ON Climate & Renewables announced a proposal last year for a wind farm on a 10-square-mile area east of Expressway 77 and north of FM 186, stretching across parts of the San Perlita, Raymondville and Lyford school districts.

Also, Baryonyx Corp., a Houston-based green energy company, has proposed a wind farm about 10 miles offshore of South Padre Island.

Commissioners passed several measures Tuesday to allow the wind power project to proceed, but gave interim County Judge Aurelio Guerra authority to negotiate further with Duke about a possible contribution to build a park and a $50,000 contribution for educational programs.

The Duke Energy representatives were questioned about the project by Willacy County residents during Monday’s hearing.  Although commissioners tentatively agreed to a 70 percent 10-year tax abatement for the wind energy project, the agreement has been structured so that Willacy County will receive more tax revenue earlier in the program than proposed by another company’s wind farm project announced last year, they learned.

The wind power project would provide seven to 10 permanent jobs when completed, but would create 140 to 200 construction jobs during the 12 to 18 months it will take to build the wind farm, Pena said. "Duke Energy is intending to lease property and establish some wind turbines that would be 1.8 megawatt to 2 megawatts in size," Pena said.

Lee Zierger, of the Rio Grande Delta Chapter of the National Audubon Society in Brownsville, said Monday that the wind farm project should not be harmful to migratory birds because it would be shorter than 500 feet tall and not built directly on the coastline.

The blade tips of such wind generators move at more than 100 miles per hour, he said. Birds cannot move fast enough to avoid the blades if they were flying that low, but migratory birds fly much higher than the proposed towers, he said.

"I think they’re trying to be as environmentally conscious as they can," Zieger said. Howard said Monday the first phase of the project would produce 200 megawatts and eventually it would produce a total of 200 to 350 megawatts, depending on which manufacturer is chosen to produce the wind turbines.

Answering an audience question, Howard said on Monday the three companies being considered to provide wind turbines are Vestas, of Colorado and Denmark; General Electric Co., United States; and Siemens, Germany.

Pena said Duke Energy’s wind farm would be exactly twice as large as a project announced last year by Chicago-based E.ON Climate & Renewables. However, negotiations with E.ON, which began last year, are also continuing, Guerra said. The E.ON project is a totally separate proposal, he said.

Negotiations for the Duke proposal began after Jan. 1, he said. As with the E.ON project, Duke would pay for improvements to county roads that serve the areas where wind turbines would be built, Guerra said Monday.

Taxpayers would benefit because county road funds could then be used to upgrade roads in other parts of the county, he said. "These wind turbines are going to be out there for 25 years," Pena said. "We want you to look at them and say Duke Energy has been a community partner," he said.