Towering turbines and blades to harvest the wind for electricity to power South Texas along a corridor east of U.S. Highway 77 through Willacy County will be within easy view of motorists by the end of 2012.
Construction of wind energy farms are concentrated approximately five miles east of Raymondville toward San Perlita and five miles east of Sebastian at the intersection of Farm-to-Market (FM) Road 1081 and FM 507 is underway. The sites feature portable buildings, trucks, earth moving equipment and some cables. Access roads across fields are being built for crews to reach the turbine sites and underground power lines will carry the electricity from the towers to existing utility lines.
Duke Energy began construction of 171 wind turbines in early 2012 to produce 400 megawatts of electricity. Equipment and materials arrived at a site near the intersection of Farm-to-Market Road 507 and FM 1081, approximately five or six miles east of Sebastian, late in 2011. The farm should include 84 Mitsubishi 2.4 megawatt turbines and 87 Siemens 2.7-megawatt turbines when complete.
E.ON Climate & Renewables of Austin broke ground about five miles east of Raymondville along Texas Highway 186 between Raymondville and San Perlita in November 2011 for 112 Vestas V100 1.8 megawatt wind turbines scheduled for installation by the end of 2012. The turbine towers will be 263 feet high with 328-foot diameter blades. The total height from tower base to blade tip will be a little more than 426 feet.
Texas State Technical College (TSTC) Harlingen opened its Wind Energy Technology (WET) Program in 2010 to train entry-level technicians for the industry’s workforce along with TSTC West Texas, and a grant from the Governor’s Office allowed TSTC Harlingen and Del Mar College of Corpus Christi to welcome students to WET courses at the Renewable Energy Education Center in Ingleside during August 2011.
The positives for wind energy include additional jobs for the transportation industry, construction and assembly phases, business management and maintenance of the turbine units.
“Duke Energy expects 300 employees to work on the Los Vientos Windpower Project,” said Milton R. Howard, the company’s vice president for wind development based in Houston.
Ninety people worked at the site by mid-February 2012 and eventually 15 positions will be long-term jobs. The wind farm will inject more than $200 million into the local economy during its lifespan.
Russell Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association (TREIA), said that wind power across Texas probably will expand, but there will be limits. “Land prices and government-funded incentives, such as tax credits for energy companies, will affect how frequently travelers see the wind towers between Corpus Christi and Laredo,” he said. “Without those two things, the wind energy industry could slow to a crawl in South Texas.”
Gulf wind could benefit consumers by helping avoid brown-outs or black-outs because the wind speeds often rise in the afternoons at about the same time electric demand peaks, Howard and Smith agreed.
“It takes time to research the best possible wind farm sites because strong, steady breezes from the Gulf of Mexico do not come far inland at some points, and there’s extensive research and precautions to protect migratory birds,” explained Smith.
Radar detection of flocks and low-hanging clouds that block birds’ vision could automatically shut down a wind farm system to temporarily curtail electric production.
Howard said that Duke Energy wants to pursue more wind power projects in South Texas, but the initial development phases require long-term agreements between the power purchaser, municipalities, electric cooperatives and large businesses.
“We believe the growth of wind power will be gradual as the demand for electricity increases and the economy strengthens,” he said. “With each additional renewable energy investment, I think the area increases its prospects for attracting new businesses to the area.”
Smith said that leases for off-shore wind energy and in-depth analysis are under way. He predicted ports at Corpus Christi and Brownsville will receive a large influx of off-shore materials within the next two to four years. Most land-based wind energy equipment for Southwest and Midwest states already arrives through Corpus Christi.