Growing up in the 1970s, each Christmas our family would load the station wagon and make the long drive west from Houston to a ranch outside of Big Spring, Texas. Around about San Angelo, the view from my side window would begin to enlarge with sweeping vistas of mesas, arroyos, and plains that merged land with sky. Occasionally a windmill feeding a stock tank flashed by. This was John Wayne country; at least it looked that way to me.
In the late 1990s, I made what I felt was a risky move, from Houston to the unknown of working in San Angelo. The remarkable vistas only a short drive from town were a real consolation to me as I adapted to a different place. In the 20 years since, many of those same vistas have been interrupted by thousands of massive white wind turbines. These are not quaint windmills feeding stock tanks; they are enormous industrial propellers churning in the sky, over 300 ft in diameter. Big.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, Texas has by far the greatest number of wind turbines in the country, over 10,000. The largest “farm” of wind turbines is the Roscoe Wind Farm in Nolan County, near Sweetwater, with close to 700 turbines. Wind energy employs about 18,000 people in the state and accounts for approximately 9 percent of our electricity needs, equivalent to 3.6 million homes.
I’m trying not to make this a nostalgic rant. I recognize the need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. Wind energy is clean. I’d like to think I’m pretty forward-thinking when it comes to sustainability. Yet I can’t help but miss the views from the side window of the station wagon. Are they gone forever? What have we lost? Shouldn’t we at least be asking the question? Maybe I’ve turned into a Don Quixote character, tilting futilely at windmills. I wonder.
Craig Kinney, AIA, is an architect in San Angelo.