It is the largest contracted wind farm in the country. Consisting of 171 wind turbines, a network of roads spanning almost 47 miles, and 12 miles of electric power lines, the Los Vientos wind farm project in Willacy County will eventually generate enough electricity to technically power 120,000 homes when production revs up this year.
Long term, locals here are beaming at the prospect that the wind project, which was initially completed last year, now places a renewed emphasis on the rural parts of the Valley, rebranding them as centers for job creation and energy to the state.
At the project’s inception, the company claims that over the next 25 years, the wind farm will inject more than $200 million into the economy, derived partly from taxes, revenues and lease payments to land owners. Currently, there are 23 landowners representing 33,000 acres.
“Willacy and Cameron Counties have an unbelievable wind resource. That’s why these wind turbines are here,” said Milt Howard, Duke Energy Renewables Vice President of Business Development. “As long as this community supports wind, it will be here producing clean, emission free energy for a long time.”
In January, North Carolina-based Duke Energy held a ribbon cutting and open house to celebrate the start of its Los Vientos I and II windpower project in eastern Willacy County, only one of five windpower projects the company commissioned in Texas in 2012, and the only the wind project located in the Rio Grande Valley.
The wind farm will generate 402 megawatts of clean energy, as well as displace 720,000 tons of carbon dioxide typically produced by power plants over one year.
Willacy County negotiated a significant regional abatement plan with Duke to lure the company to the region
“Abatements are a good thing as long they are structured correctly,” said Willacy County Judge John Gonzalez. “In this case, Duke was given 85 percent tax abatement, but the other 15 percent will still lower our taxes next year. We are going to see the first dramatic tax drop in our individual tax base we have seen over the last 50 years.”
Originally as it was negotiated, Duke was slated to pay $200,000 a year in payments in lieu of taxes, but through negotiations with the county increased that payment amount to $260,000. Willacy is planning to establish a Boys and Girls Club facility at a cost of about $150,000 a year. The additional funds will put $60,000 coming in over the next 10 years to finance the club, according to Gonzalez.
“If you study the science, this area of Texas, which includes the northern part of Cameron, most of Kenedy and all of Willacy, this is one of three areas in the United States that produces the largest volume of wind during peak times, in the daytime,” Gonzalez said. “That means they get they get to optimize the price of electricity generated here.
All of the output and associated renewable energy credits from the 200 MW Los Vientos I Windpower Project in Willacy County are being sold to San Antonio-based CPS Energy under a 25-year agreement. Austin Energy is buying all of the output and associated renewable energy credits from the 202 MW Los Vientos II Windpower Project, sited in Willacy and Cameron Counties.
Wind power itself is best suited to supplement other sources like coal-fired, nuclear and natural gas power plants. Wind alone cannot power homes and businesses.
“Such a large investment coming into the county, regardless of any incentives they provided to Duke Energy, they can forsee their revenues growing because of the tax base, which is going to allow them to have more money to invest in infrastructure, equipment and employees,” said Robert Pena, Duke Energy’s local representative in the Valley. “The longterm effect will trickle down to where the county will benefit the most from these different areas.”