It always seems ironic that Texas, a fossil fuel state if ever there was one, is also the leader in wind power. According to the Department of Energy, at the end of 2012 Texas had 12,214 megawatts of wind power installed–more than twice the capacity of runner-up California.
But there is yet another layer of strangeness in the latest wind milestone in the Lone Star state: The largest federal wind power plant is now being built to power a facility that does most of the nuclear weapons dismantling in the United States. The surreal symbol for the project, which a spokesperson assures me is for real, mashes up wind turbines, longhorn cattle, an American flag, and a nuclear weapon–all encircled by a seal reading “greening the nuclear security enterprise.”
The Pantex Plant is, in fact, a prime wind-power location: outside Amarillo in the panhandle of Texas (hence “Pantex.”)
“You see a lot of wind turbines, literally, physically while you’re standing at the site,” says Judy Marks, CEO of Siemens Government Technologies, the developer of the project. But the 2.3 megawatt turbines are a step beyond its nearest neighbors, according to Marks. “These are far larger,” she says. “I mean, each blade here is about the size of a football field.”
The case for the project is largely economic. The 47 million kilowatt hours of energy the five massive turbines will deliver should provide of 65% of the plant’s energy needs. That will save $2.8 million annually over the course of the 18-year contract, according to Siemens–money that will be used to pay back the original investment.
“There are no upfront costs to the government,” says Marks. That’s not entirely true, though. The project qualified for a renewable energy grant, which was delivered in cash in lieu of a tax credit. Pantex’s finance director confirmed through a spokesperson that the credit was “30% of qualifying expenses.” And Marks admits that these kinds of incentives are still important in encouraging renewable energy installations. “It’s hard when you’re starting to be able to beat a mature, regulated energy competitor,” she says.
Still, like most investments in a sustainable source of energy, it’s a smart investment in the long run. And Marks says it’s only the beginning. “We hope to expand the wind farm even beyond these five turbines,” she says. “There’s plenty of property there, and plenty of wind.”