From the top of El Centro College, there’s no escaping a skyline that is – in part – a tribute to the fossil fuel industry. Not exactly the place you’d expect to find a wind farm.
David Browning, the school’s vice president of business and administration dreamed up the idea shortly after he started there six years ago.
“I hadn’t worked downtown before and I just noticed that every time I walked outside, the wind always blew and messed up my hair. And I thought, ‘Wow, it’s really windy here all the time, why is that?’, and as I started thinking about it, it’s because Dallas has created its own kind of artificial canyon," he said. "The tall buildings there funnel all that wind into a very narrow space and creates a higher level of wind."
The farm sits atop what used to be the old Sanger building. This hundred-seventeen-year-old structure was one of Dallas’ first to have electricity.
There are 80 turbines here. Each is four feet tall with blades two and a half feet long. The farm generates enough energy to power 2,000 computers.
And it’s part of a state that has five of the largest wind farms in the country according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report places the Lone Star state at number one in wind power capacity. Over the last five years, Texans invested 10.6 billion dollars in renewable energy. And that number’s expected to quadruple over the next decade.
Russel Smith runs the Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association. While the wind business is well-established, he says what’s really hot is solar.
“I would say that on a percentage basis of growth, solar is the fastest growing of the technologies in the renewable field in Texas and this is both in the utility scale and distributed. Rooftop – if you will,” said Smith.
In San Antonio, the Alamo Solar Farm should be up and running by 2016. It will generate enough electricity to power 70,000 homes. Utilities in Austin are giving incentives to small communities to get together and buy rooftop solar panels.
Here in North Texas, group buying projects like Solarize Plano and Solarize Garland started up this year.
So, as the renewable industry builds, there are still hurdles to clear. Texas doesn’t have the tax incentives for consumers who save energy that other states do. Then there’s the oil business where prices have dropped dramatically in the last six months.
“We’re in Texas and that’s oil and gas country and nobody is trying to make that go away," said Esther McElfish, a clean energy consultant. “It's really a package deal so everyone can work together so those industries can do their part to make it healthier, cleaner, safer," she said. "More parents are wanting to create a viable and healthier future for their children too.”
The turbines back at El Centro are part of the first rooftop wind farm in Dallas County. Browning says other downtown buildings are investigating wind so more turbines could be spinning soon.