Wind farm takes root across 2 Central Texas counties

A $330 million wind farm is taking root across two Central Texas counties.  (Photo by Paul J....
A $330 million wind farm is taking root across two Central Texas counties. (Photo by Paul J. Gately)(KWTX)
Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 3:47 PM CDT
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MART, Texas (KWTX) - A large wind farm near Mart is nearing completion and soon will be providing not only power to the grid, but also dollars for the school district and jobs for the area.

French energy conglomerate Engie, which has a North American office in Houston, began the project in 2018 in unincorporated areas of farmland near the 2,000-person Mart community.

Engie spokeswoman Julie Vitek said construction began in 2019, and commercial operations could begin before the end of the year.

The wind farm proposed for McLennan and Limestone counties will have the capacity to generate 300 megawatts of electricity, Vitek said.

Each megawatt would power 200 homes during peak periods, so using that formula the farm could light up about 60,000 homes.

The $330 million project scattered 100 wind turbines across McLennan and Limestone counties that not only will generate electricity but also tax revenue for the local school district.

Engie has at least two major clients, including Walmart, which have agreed to purchase almost half the power the turbines near Mart will generate.

Mart Superintendent Betsy Burnett said she couldn’t discuss the financial impact the turbines might have on the district because “The financial prospects of the project are still not concrete.”

The 518 students who attend the district will directly benefit “when the farm is online,” Burnett said.

“We should have a clearer picture of how this may benefit the district. 

Supporters say the Prairie Hill wind project is situated in a rural area of central Texas, where large-scale energy projects bring needed economic development in the form of employment opportunities, landowner royalty payments and tax benefits to the local communities and school districts.

It's certainly not the first time that part of Texas has supported the oil and gas industry since oil first was discovered in East Texas at Corsicana in 1894, then when Lucas Well No. 1 at Spindletop blew in.

The giant East Texas oil field extended into parts of Smith, Upshur, Gregg, Cherokee and Rusk counties, ultimately with 30,340 historic and active oil wells and it became the largest oil field in the U.S. outside of Alaska.

Then it was lignite coal, some of the most productive sources in East Texas and that lasted for many years, but then one of the largest mines closed down.

But the new energy transmission source doesn’t involve oil wells or strip mining, or anything like that, just wind.

The system will include 100 turbines, an underground electrical collection system and a 9-mile overhead 345kV transmission line.

The project includes more than 35,000 acres of land that are under long-term lease, primarily agricultural land with low-density residences; compatible with the operation of a wind energy project.

The average median household income in Mart is about $34,000, which is $20,000 less than the national average.

The area was chosen because of the winds there, where they average about 7 meters per second at a height of 80 meters, according to a U.S. Department of Energy map.

Areas with annual average wind speeds of about 6.5 meters per second are considered suitable for wind energy development, according to the DOE.

“Wind turbines and renewable energy are probably good things,” Monte Hulse, president of the board of The First National Bank of Central Texas, said.

“They can be a little unsightly, but on the other hand, they’ve done a lot for West Texas. I think it would be good to have another energy source.”

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