T. Boone Pickens' well-publicized financial woes in the wind farm business apparently haven't deterred other Texans from seeking their fortune in the emerging energy market.
On September 24, Dallas-based Tri Global Energy announced plans for the world's largest community-supported wind farm. The 122,000-acre wind farm in the Texas Panhandle has 340 landowners and 450 shareholders. It's located north of Lubbock in Hale County and stretches east across the Floyd County line.
Curtis King, senior vice president for investor relations at Tri Global, says the project's massive scale and gaggle of investors "raised a few eyebrows," but in a good way. "We're getting absolutely no pushback. Everyone is excited."
"The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker can all buy shares," says Curtis King of Tri Global Energy.
Pickens says investment in wind energy caused his overall net worth to dip below $1 billion for the first time since 2005. He told MSNBC he "lost his ass" in the wind business when natural gas prices fell. King says there are key differences in his company's approach to wind farms and Pickens' business model.
"We have a wide community supporting development costs, where T. Boone Pickens is having to pay for that out his back pocket," King says. "We suffer with the same low energy prices, but we can weather the storm because we're community supported."
Another key to Tri Global's plan? A new federal tax credit for wind energy. Struggling Texas farmers looking for a new revenue stream were eager to sign onto the project, which allows land owners to profit from the wind farm even if a turbine is never placed on their property.
"In this part of the country, water is going away pretty quickly. There's a quiet desperation with farmers wondering how they are going to irrigate their crops," King says.
Although wind farms can't replenish depleted aquifers, they could save the family farm by providing an influx of cash. Of course, Tri Global's investors aren't limited to land owners. Anyone in the surrounding community can get in on the action — and many have. "The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker can all buy shares," King says.
Tri Global estimates its wind power potential at 1,100 megawatts of renewable energy. Locally, the farms will power hundreds of homes, and the remaining megawatts will be plugged into the ERCOT and Big Eastern power grids — two of the three major U.S. grid systems. Plans call for as many as 650 turbines to be built in five phases, with an estimated completion date in mid 2018.