LUBBOCK, TX -- Cotton has long been king here on the South Plains, but now farmers can do something radically different --- make money as wind farmers.
"Since 2011 I know there have been savings depleted," said Rocky Buckner, who has farmed in Hale County for 35 years.
Now Buckner is one of the Hale County Wind Farm managers. He says this wind farm opportunity comes at a great time for farmers.
"We started 2011 you know fairly wet, and you know how we ended up was dry and we had corn and cotton really corn we had contracted, we lost the corn. The insurance kind of helped supplement the loss of that, but the contracts we had to pay out of our pocket so there were savings depleted. We look at this as a supplement to help try to bring that back," said Buckner.
These big wind turbines cost $2 to $3 million each. Each one captures enough power to provide electricity for 600 homes. And Buckner can go right on farming cotton while his land is also harvesting wind.
"That's the beauty of this model, people, your store owners, everyday person can invest in it. And we like that model because the more people we can get in the community to invest, circulates the money," said Buckner.
Buckner's revenue can come from his investment in Tri Global Energy, the company that's setting up this wind farm, and it can come from leasing out his land for the turbines.
"In the Tri Global model rather than pulling money from corporations to do this development work, we involve the community," said Tom Carbone, President of Tri Global Energy.
Tri Global is developing the 122,000 acre wind farm that will stretch west from Abernathy to Petersburg, north to Plainview and across to the Floyd County line.
"Usually the number one ingredient in any windfarm is 'hey do we have a competitive wind resource' and I think everybody here probably cursed the wind for decades, and now what we see is based on all the measurements we've taken and others. We have amongst the best wind resources in the United States," said Carbone.
The project will create about 80 to 100 permanent jobs managing the turbines and hundreds of temporary construction jobs. It comes on the tail of major job losses in Plainview, where over 2,000 people were laid off from the Cargill Meat Plant earlier this year.
"It is absolutely going to create some jobs and create some wealth and with that, I think people will come to Plainview, it may not be as many as we lost with the Cargill closure but it may actually create more wealth in the long run than the plant," said Kevin Carter, Executive Director of the Plainview industrial foundation.
After the Cargill closure, Carter worked to help those displaced workers.
"If they get all 500 turbines built, you will see a billion dollars added to the tax rolls for all Hale County," said Carter. "I think it will create some money in Plainview, some wealth in Plainview."
Buckner says this will put more money back into the farmers pockets and help build up the county.
"This will have a wonderful effect, you know we can better our schools, the tax dollars to the school, a hospital and its going, its not only effecting one school, its effecting Plainview, Hale center, Abernathy, Petersburg, Lockney and its going to effect all of them and we all need better schools," said Buckner.
Tri Global says the project will be developed in five phases of construction. They hope to have the first phase up and running by the end of 2015 and the entire project operational by 2018.
Now you may be wondering, will Lubbock see any benefit from the renewable energy? We spoke with LP&L who says not from this project, but once their current Excel contract expires they will be getting some wind power from Oklahoma.