Amarillo Globe News – Workshop not hot air – New group to teach public about energy

September 4th, 2008  |  Published in Articles

The question has not been where is the wind, but how to move its power to the people. A new group has blown into town, and it will start teaching the public about wind energy and building the industry with a workshop.

“The development of wind energy in the Panhandle is a hot topic and a complex topic,” said Gary Pitner, executive director of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission, which is a founding member of Class 4 Winds, the new group. “There are regulatory issues, political issues, economic-development issues. We need a vehicle to provide Panhandle stakeholders good information.”

Class 4 Winds will host the seminar Wednesday at the Amarillo Civic Center. Speakers will address issues involving electric transmission and answer questions. The group is planning for this to be the first installment in a continuing series of seminars on different wind-energy topics.

“It’s an educational organization,” said Wes Reeves, spokesman for Xcel Energy, which is another of the founding members of Class 4. “The plan is to have a region-wide effort. We get a lot of calls, especially about development, but we’re not developers. We buy wind power. It would really help us to have a clearinghouse that’s independent and not beholden to anyone.”

The nonprofit group is still recruiting members and founding members. Current founding members include Amarillo National Bank, Cielo Wind Power, the Underwood Law Firm, Xcel, PRPC and Owens Corning, all working in conjunction with West Texas A&M University. Suggested financial support from founding members can range from $3,000 to $20,000, according to information from PRPC.

Economic development is another focus of the group.

“This is a whole new approach and program,” said Ken Starcher, director of the Alternative Energy Institute at WT. “We’re also focusing on what we can offer to bring in wind (equipment) manufacturing and wind-service providers. If not in Amarillo, put it in Pampa. At least it will be in the area.”

Besides developing a public-education program on the legal, landowner, interconnection and environmental issues surrounding wind power, the group plans to serve as an information marketplace. The goal is to make developers aware of the area’s plentiful winds and provide links between landowners, developers and regional resources, according to the Class 4 Web site.

Pitner said he expects the effort to be long term.

“It will take some time just like it will take time for the industry to develop,” he said. “We hope Class 4 Winds can be an honest broker of information, a credible source as the wind industry develops.”

The main delay for installing a large number of turbines in the region is the lack of transmission to take the electricity to more populated markets. The Texas Public Utilities Commission is overseeing a process to change that.

But the pace of wind development elsewhere is brisk. Across the U.S. the wind industry just passed a landmark, according to a news release from the American Wind Energy Association on Wednesday. The industry has installed more than 20,000 megawatts of wind capacity. It has added 10,000 megawatts in two years, unlike the more than two decades it took to install the first 10,000.