Cameron and Willacy counties becoming mecca for wind farms

Turbines at the San Roman wind farm are shown, Friday, July 29, 2016, near Bayview, Texas. Work continues to erect other turbine structures in the project area. (Jason Hoekema | The Brownsville Herald)

RAYMONDVILLE — Ten years ago, flat swaths of farmland stretched across most of the area’s horizon.

Today, towering wind turbines are transforming the landscape, jutting from farmers’ fields from northern Cameron into Willacy County.

Some say it’s the wind that’s turning Willacy County into an international wind farm magnet.

“It’s a great place for wind farms,” Jeff Ferguson, Apex Clean Energy’s senior vice president for development, said yesterday.

The latest developer to join the party might be Apex.

The Charlottesville, Va., developer is expected to meet with county commissioners Thursday to propose the development of a wind farm at the famed El Sauz Ranch.

The company is proposing construction of about 100 turbines, County Judge Aurelio Guerra stated yesterday.

Ferguson said the proposed wind farm would generate 300 megawatts of electricity a year.

The proposal comes as commissioners consider agreements with developers of two other wind farms, Chief Appraiser Agustin Lopez said.

Since 2009, wind farms have helped fuel Willacy County’s farm-based economy, pumping tens of thousands of dollars into the area’s poor school districts.

Now, many farmers here are counting on turbine leases to boost their incomes.

It’s the wind

Developers say it’s a natural phenomenon based on the temperatures of land and waters in the Gulf of Mexico that drives their companies to build wind farms here.

“ It’s kind of a unique wind resource,” Ferguson said. “It’s caused by the deferential in temperatures between ocean water and surface temperature on land. That differential is greater in summer months at the same time customers use their air conditioners.”

Guerra said the project, expected to begin late this year, is projected to be completed in late 2020.

Willacy’s wind helped drive developer Joe Wetegrove to work with EDF Energy to plan a wind farm on the county’s southeastern edge.

Now, EDF, a London-based company, is proposing about 125 turbines to generate 272 megawatts of power a year.

“Most people don’t really realize this — the coastal wind is the best wind,” Wetegrove said. “The coastal wind blows from 6 in the morning to 8 at night. The highest use of power is at 7 in the morning and 9 at night. That’s also the highest rate — the highest price per kilowatt.”

Wetegrove called Willacy’s wind speed “optimal.”

“On average, the wind blows 15 to 18 mph day,” he said. “Man, that’s a good wind. It’s what the turbines are built for.”

Wetegrove said Willacy’s steady winds make it “bankable.”

“Consistency is very important,” he said. “Ninety percent of the time the wind comes from the southeast — so it’s consistent.”

How we got here

It’s been about two years since more turbines sprang up across the county’s rural landscape.

Lopez said E.ON Climate & Renewables, a German-based developer, was the last company to build wind turbines here.

In December 2017, E.ON expanded its wind farm that now numbers 188 wind turbines near San Perlita, said Jeff Tulis, the company’s spokesman in Austin.

In 2009, E.ON launched the county’s first wind farm with 112 turbines.

Since then, the company has expanded its operations.

Now, commissioners are considering revising the county’s agreements which offer tax breaks in exchange for money in lieu of taxes, Lopez said.

Lopez said it like looks like more wind farms are coming.

Wind farm operators

E.ON Climate & Renewables

Duke Energy

Developers proposing wind farms

EDF Energy

Apex Clean Energy