Fort Worth Telegram – Rancher’s Windfall – More West Texas landowners are signing deals with wind-farm developers

January 29th, 2006  |  Published in Articles

When Chris Crow first contacted ranchers a dozen years ago about leasing wind rights to a fledgling wind-farm developer, the idea that dry West Texas breezes could be commercially exploited sounded attractive, but all were skeptical.

“They were willing to listen,” recalled Crow, believed to be the state’s first wind landman, similar to the agents who secure mineral rights for petroleum companies. “But Texas landowners have seen all kinds of cockamamie ideas come down the pike, all kinds of abuses from oil companies. No one would come out and say I was full of bull. They would just not react.”

With 20 wind-farm projects generating 1,500 megawatts of electricity per year as of June — about equivalent to a medium-sized gas-fueled generating plant — and many more on the drawing board, there has been a sea change in attitudes.

Farmers have even taken the initiative in some areas — banding together, conducting their own studies, then pitching a project involving their land to a wind-power company.

After farming 40 years, Cliff Etheridge of Roscoe organized friends and neighbors to form a landowners association, hired an attorney and began approaching wind-farm developers.

“We furnished them a mountain of information, took them on site visits,” said Etheridge, who added that negotiations with Irish-owned Airtricity are all but concluded. And he has set up a company, Windworks, to recruit other groups of Texas landowners interested in forging similar deals.

This form of renewable energy has been a windfall for some West Texans whose farms were literally saved by the royalties paid by the project owners.

Landowners can receive from $2,000 to $4,000 annually from a 1 megawatt turbine, according to Ken Starcher of West Texas A&M University’s Alternative Energy Institute. Older turbines are less than a megawatt; newer ones are 1.5 or 2 megawatts.

“Some have told me they wouldn’t still be farming if not for the royalty checks,” Starcher said.

Wind quality and proximity to transmission lines could affect the deal offered, but a rancher with a well-situated ridgeline that could accommodate 50 turbines could see royalty checks of $100,000 or more, based on Starcher’s figures.

The bluff on the Cox family’s ranch south of Merkel was good only “for growing juniper trees,” Jo Cox said. “You couldn’t get up there. One of the biggest benefits is that the developer built a road and we can get on top. They put some seed out, and we might actually get some grass up there for our cattle if it ever rains.

“Our ranch just makes a profit. This year, the cows aren’t making any money because there’s no grass.”

But the wind farm “is total profit without any work.”

“This is my father-in-law’s retirement money. He loves the windmills,” she said of Brady Cox, an Abilene pediatric dental surgeon still in practice at 80, who owns the ranch. “He’s wanting to take a big trip with some of the royalties.”

Louis Woodward, an elderly rancher who died last summer, became something of a poster child of wind farming. His spread near the West Texas town of Girvin has 242 turbines which, said Cielo Wind Power land manager Randy Sowell, made “his later years more comfortable.”

The frequently interviewed Woodward would tell people the royalties allowed him to buy another ranch while the road Cielo built on his original property made it easier to feed his sheep.

When asked how he could sleep with the noisy giant turbines so close to his house, Woodward would remark:

“Yep, they make some noise, but it’s the soothing sound of money being made.”

Copyright (c) 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Record Number: 1950956