By Ken Becker, Executive Director, Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development
West Texas is no stranger to the energy industry – for nearly 100 years, our region has been leading the way in oil and gas.
And while we still look to these resources for economic benefits and energy independence for America, we now have the opportunity to show the rest of the country what’s possible when we look to the future.
In our region, few industries are more clearly a crucial player in that future than wind energy.
After more than $40 billion in private investment, Texas produces more wind power than any other state in the U.S. In fact, the more than 23,000 megawatts of wind power generated by Texas turbines triples the output of Oklahoma, our next closest competitor, and Texas has enough installed wind to power over 6.2 million homes.
As the wind sector has expanded, it has generated considerable economic growth for the state of Texas.
Twenty-five thousand Texans now earn their living in the wind sector – whether they’re servicing turbines, building new wind farms, manufacturing wind turbine parts like blades and nacelles, or simply operating a diner or other small business in one of the hundreds of Texas rural towns benefiting from wind energy projects.
With strong natural winds, places like West Texas are uniquely positioned to benefit from the ongoing boom in the state’s wind sector. And while transmission lines – the infrastructure through which electricity is moved from the wind farms of West Texas to urban centers like Dallas and Houston – can always be better, the existence of Competitive Renewable Energy Zone power lines help our region capitalize on the opportunity at hand.
What’s that mean for small towns and rural areas in West Texas?
It means money. Millions of dollars in lease payments are made by wind developers to private landowners on an annual basis, providing a reliable supplement to farm and ranch income and a source of stability in the face of the uncertain commodity prices and weather.
It means jobs. Wind farm construction and operation sparks job creation and employment opportunity in areas where investment may not otherwise flow.
It also means tax money. Millions of dollars in property tax payments are made by wind energy developers on an annual basis, and a huge amount of that tax money is being paid in small towns and rural communities to benefit our schools and other local needs like infrastructure and healthcare.
Wind projects are often the largest sources of tax revenue in a rural county, and as new analysis from Moody’s shows. That revenue provides a significant boost to local governments and reduces the tax burden for residents. The new revenue generated by wind’s growth also enables governments to invest in their futures. Wind also saves money for Texas families and businesses: $5.7 billion from 2010-2017 according to a recent report.
Here in West Texas, in the town of Sweetwater, wind investment took the Nolan County market value from $607 million in 1998 to $3.2 billion as wind development peaked in 2009. This growth enabled the school districts, county, and hospital district to expand and upgrade their facilities.
The positive impacts of wind reach across West Texas. They reach across party lines. And they reach from our past into our future as a key player in the state’s nationally dominant wind energy sector.
With support from lawmakers, partnership between developers and landowners, and a stable policy environment, we are only scratching the surface of what’s possible when it comes to wind. The wind won’t stop blowing in West Texas – and we don’t have to stop benefiting from that wind any time soon.