Winds of change are blowing.
Fuel prices are soaring, so that makes everything associated with renewable energy a hot-button topic.
And, potentially profitable.
So when a wind farm was proposed for Northwest Parker County offering royalties and bonuses similar to those being paid by gas producers, many locals took notice.
However, one resident who attended an informational meeting at Poolville, hosted by international conglomerate PPM Energy, hopes the company takes their windmills elsewhere.
Tom Butt, a retiree with a small farm and private airstrip near Whitt, says there are two red flags that were raised as the company recruited landowners for windmill sites at the recent meeting.
“First, there has been research done by Duke University that says the windmills actually change the climate for several miles downwind from where they are blowing,” Butt said. “The constant motion dries everything out.”
According to Duke environmental engineer Somnath Baidya Roy, wind turbines create turbulence, which can change weather patterns for miles around the windmill.
“It’s something like the wake from the propeller of a boat,” Roy said in an October 2005 interview with Science Daily. “Now this added turbulence mixes air up and down and creates a warming and drying effect near the ground.”
The scientist added the turbulence could raise air conditioning costs near the wind farm site.
The second issue raised by Butt is the loss of land value where a windmill is erected.
“They told us we could make $16,000 a year on just one windmill,” he said. “And everybody’s eyes just bugged out,” he said. “But after I talked to a friend of mine who sells farms and ranches, I found out putting up one of those windmills can cause you to lose up to 90 percent of the value of your property.”
That theory does not stand up to what little research has been done on the subject.
Though current data is scarce on the correlation between wind farms and falling property values, the National Association of Realtors said in an April 2007 release, “Although research remains scant, wind farms appear to have a minimal, or at most, transitory impact on real estate.”
A 2006 study conducted by an Illinois real estate appraiser said the turbines do not lower property values.
The study compared sales of similar homes and farm property near wind farms and those in a control area with like amenities, but away from wind farms.
“The study of property sales from 1998 through 2006 indicates no difference in property values in the wind farm area, as compared with other similar areas,” the report states.
Besides his fear of his farm losing value, Butt feels his safety as a private pilot could be in jeopardy if one of the windmills were built close to his airstrip.
“Those turbines create a lot of turbulence,” he said. “It could create some problems.”
The size or anticipated output of the proposed farm is not known.
A phone call to the company was not returned, however, through its Web site, PPM says sites for wind farms go through a rigorous evaluation process.
Before turbines begin turning, experts look for the site’s wind resource, access to transmission lines, environmental impact and the ability to obtain permits.
“Another key component,” the site states, “is establishing strong relationships with stakeholders, whether farmers, ranchers, government entities or utilities.”
Although Butt admits the representatives of the company were congenial, he has opted not to allow a windmill on his place. He hopes his neighbors will carefully consider all the ramifications of allowing a turbine, citing similar experience when drilling began in the Barnett Shale.
“There were oil and gas men running around promising royalties and people were signing the contracts without reading them, just to get the bonus money,” Butt said. “I’m afraid a lot of people won’t realize all the ins and outs until it’s too late.”
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