Book explores wind energy in Texas

The pros and cons of wind turbines on ranching in West Texas is explored in Viento: Wind, Turbines & Ranchland by Scott White of Texas Tech’s National Ranching Heritage Center ($20 paperback, 8 1/4 by 10 1/2, 76 pages).

The book, which features interviews with West Texas ranchers, offers a balanced assessment of the turbines that have certainly changed the rural landscape. Some ranchers applaud the clean energy and see the revenue from wind energy as a way to keep their ranches solvent and family-owned. Others deplore the way the turbines have defaced the countryside and worry about their long-term effect on ranching.

“The purpose of this project,” White writes, “was to record, through a series of oral history interviews, the opinions and feelings of ranchers about wind turbines, the accompanying transmission lines and how those fit with their philosophies of land care.

The interviews, he said, offer “insights into why some have chosen to have wind turbines on their land, while others oppose them being on their ranches or anywhere they might be seen.

“Either way, wind turbines have altered many ranchers’ perceptions of the future of ranching.”

Money alone, he found, is not the only issue, although it certainly plays an important role in the discussion.

“I tell you what,” said Raymond McDaniel, whose family has had a ranch near Abilene since 1928, “wind energy saved the lives of a lot of farmers and ranchers around here. Absolutely saved their lives.”

Throckmorton County rancher Bob Brown said, “This project isn’t for us; it’s for the kids and the grandkids and the great-grandkids.”

Kathy Dickson, who owns a ranch near Maryneal that has been in the family since 1917, said of the turbines: “We love the wind turbines. They don’t have any impact on the cattle operation. Matter of fact, they help it with the better roads. They’re clean. They don’t pollute.”

Riley Miller, whose ranch is near Justiceburg, said: “That check, according to how much the wind blows, coming every month makes a difference in what you can do on the ranch. For some of these people it saved their land. You bet it did.”

On the other hand, Albany rancher Cliff Teinert suggested that the wind turbines ought to be located in cities that need the electricity, not on ranches. “Put them on top of those big buildings, and they can generate their own electricity. That way we wouldn’t have to look at ugly sights, and everybody would be happy.

“People make a bunch of money off the wind, you know; it’s better off than cattle. But boy, it sure defaces the country.”

Ross McKnight of Throckmorton called the turbines “a scourge on the ranching industry. I think it takes away from the quality of life, which is the one thing that we have to offer. They’re giving away the beauty of nature for a short-term dollar.'”

Others, such as Abilene’s Phil Guitar, are taking a wait-and-see attitude, understanding the problems — “They ruin the looks of the ranch. And they kill the value of the ranch.” — yet acknowledging that “it just hasn’t played out that the developers have come to us with good deals.”

Guitar and other ranchers questioned the long-term economic viability of wind energy, which has to be heavily subsidized to operate at this time.

Author Scott White will talk about his book and the wind energy issue at the Abilene Public Library at noon Monday, April 8, as part of the library’s Texas Author Series. He will sign copies of the book after his talk.