Preliminary approval to the nationís largest wind-power project was given Thursday by the Texas Public Utility Commission, a plan that would build billions of dollars worth of new transmissions lines to bring wind energy from rural West Texas to urban areas.

Texas already generates about 5,000 megawatts of wind power, more than any other state. The new plan would add transmission lines to boost capacity to about 18,000 megawatts. But it comes with a price tag. Texas electric customers will bear the cost of the $4.9 billion plan over the next several years, paying about $4 more per month on their electric bills, according to Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. Even so, state officials said those fees are still several years away, and that itís no different than the way transmission lines are now funded to serve traditional power plants.

And as important as reducing the nationís dependence on petroleum products is to the economy and security, implementation of such plans will not come without controversy. Not all Texas residents are eager to see massive turbines dotting the local landscape, as recent discussions in Brown County related to one companyís request for economic development tax abatements have shown.

The PUCís 2-1 decision to move the plan forward did not commit to a project as large as some lawmakers and environmental groups had sought. Still, itís a major step for proponents of renewable energy, and wind energy in particular.

Even if the wind farms donít ultimately find a home in this county, the area figures to benefit from the jobs created by growth in this industry. A number of local manufacturers are major suppliers to wind power developers, and such projects mean their business will continue to grow.

Brownwood Bulletin