Texas mayor: Wind energy good for region

Wind energy has been good to Nolan County, according to Sweetwater, Texas, Mayor Greg Wortham.

CNJ staff photo: Gabriel Monte

Greg Wortham, right, executive director for Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse and mayor of Sweetwater, Texas, gives the keynote address during Wednesday's Pure Energy Expo at Clovis Civic Center.

Wortham said since the arrival of wind energy projects to the county of 15,000 people, the local tax base has grown from $500 million in 2000 to $3 billion.

The biggest challenge to the industry, he told the hundreds who attended the Pure Energy Expo Wednesday at Clovis Civic Center, is the opposition of lawmakers to renewable energy projects.

Wortham, who also serves as executive director for Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse, was the keynote speaker during the second day of the two-day expo.

The clearinghouse provides information and helps bring together energy companies and Texas communities.

Wortham said there were more than 20 wind energy companies operating out of Sweetwater, which is the county seat of Nolan County.

Nolan County, located about two hours southeast of Lubbock, had 14 wind energy projects in 2009, according to the Alternative Energy Institute at West Texas A&M, and produces around 2,500 megawatts of power, nearly a quarter of the wind-generated energy produced by Texas.

Economic impacts of wind energy projects in Nolan County total $400 million and include: landowner royalties at $15 million a year, an annual payroll of more than $45 million a year which was growing to almost $60 million in 2009.

Wortham said renewable energy projects have created 1,330 wind jobs in Nolan County and around 600 construction jobs in the last 10 years. And it has spurred other industries such as establishing transmission lines across the state.

"Suddenly our region is going to have a lot of industries that we never thought of before," he said.

Wortham worked in the energy industry in New York before returning to his hometown in 2004.

One of the battles Texas communities faced was the "Friday night syndrome," Wortham said. Rivalries between towns prevented them to work together to bring energy projects to their communities.

"We'd cut our foot off to spite each other," he said.

He used the example of Abilene, Texas, which lost a bid to Pennsylvania for the U.S. location for Gamesa, a Spanish wind energy company. With no support from other communities that would have benefited from acquiring the plant, the region lost out on eight factories that the energy company located in Pennsylvania.

But a concerted effort from volunteers working to bring renewable energy companies to the state has helped grow the industry in his region.

Wortham said now wind projects can be found within 300 miles of Nolan County.

"Projects just spill out of there," he said.

Now the challenge is political, Wortham said. Republican lawmakers who supported former President George W. Bush's renewable energy initiatives are blocking similar initiatives from the Obama administration.

Gene Hendricks, economic development specialist for Clovis Industrial Development Corp. , said he's been working for five years to get renewable energy companies to locate in eastern New Mexico.

He said Wortham did a great job explaining what the impact of the renewable energy industry in his area. He said hopes to create a groundswell of support for energy projects in eastern New Mexico.

"I'm hoping we get a chorus of people that will try to get our state government to push this effort," he said.

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