Texas was already one of the most important centres for the world’s oil industry but the state is busy recasting itself. It is also fast becoming a global centre for the wind industry. I’ve come here to see the biggest wind farm in the world.
Ironically although this is a state where everything from hats to characters, come in different versions of big and very big, I find myself starting the journey in the smallest of places. Roscoe would have been the original one horse town, except even the horse has left. The main street is straight out of a Hollywood designer’s drawing. The one restaurant in town is a Mexican. A sparse inside is lightened by certificates claiming this has won the award for the best restaurant for a first date. It being the only restaurant in town, has not dimmed their pride in the award.
It’s a small town with big ideas. The German energy company E.ON has come to build its wind turbines on the town’s surrounding farmland. It’s brought new life to the community which had otherwise been bypassed when they built a new highway which skirted the town and left it lone and largely unnoticed by the speeding cars, money and people which no longer made a stop in Roscoe.
Such is the novelty of a foreign visitor in town that within minutes of us arriving, the town manager, which I assume is a kind of Mayor, rapped on our car window. He must have heard there were some English people in town and he offered to open the town museum for us in case we wanted somewhere to sit. Rather embarrassed by the hospitality we chose to stay in the car waiting for the interviewee to turn up but he said he would leave the museum open anyway as it was perfectly safe and no one would take anything.
This part of Texas is a windy place. For years the farmers have tried to protect their crops and homes from it. It’s not just the regular wind that they worry about, tornadoes sweep across the landscape and you can see large concrete boxes on the roadside being sold as storm shelters. The man from E-on explains to me that the local farming community has spent years worrying about the wind, now they bless it. E-on is paying them rent to put the turbines on their land. So they now have two crops to harvest: cotton and wind.
The wind farms they build in this state, offer substantial help to the farmers. They now get rent from E.ON which can help make the difference between the farm making a profit or a loss. Clearly the wind farms also help the power companies which now have a new product to sell and they help the environment by producing clean energy. But despite all the good the wind farms create, there is a cost.
Wind energy is only viable because it receives a government subsidy. The bill for what is uneconomic power generation is landing on the doormat of taxpayers. Generating wind energy means covering vast areas of land with huge and hefty turbines and in itself wind energy can make only a minor contribution to our energy needs. It alone is not the answer to our energy crisis – but it does make an important contribution and one which is being taken increasingly seriously by governments and energy companies.
Roscoe hopes the wind industry will help revitalise its local economy. What happens there is yet to be seen. But if you are ever on a first date in Texas I can recommend an excellent Mexican restaurant close to some picturesque wind turbines.