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A little sun and no wind for Travis County renewable energy project

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

A Travis County plan to explore renewable energy projects that would help fund local schools has hit a mild snag. In briefing the court on the project on Tuesday, Assistant Purchasing Agent Marvin Brice said that the county had gone shopping for ideas from wind and solar energy firms to partner on the potential project on county-owned land in Throckmorton County. The Republic of Texas originally granted the land – which now includes 18,820 acres – to Travis County in 1839 in order to help support local schools. Until now, the county has largely capitalized on it through oil and gas exploration and hunting leases, but a plan to build a wind and/or solar farm has been in the works. However, on Tuesday, Brice explained that only one firm – a solar outfit – responded to the requests for proposals recently launched into the marketplace by staff. Brice said his team reached out to wind power firms to investigate the disinterest and found a consensus among them: “In this case, the overwhelming response was that the county had what they call no ‘off-taker’ of the energy to be generated. There was no one to purchase the energy, so there wasn’t an interest in this,” Brice explained. Nonetheless, Commissioner Brigid Shea pointed out that electricity is a bull market. “We used the highest amount of energy ever in the history of the state recently, so we know that there’s a demand, and there’s certainly great demand for wind in West Texas, which is a lot farther away from the big cities than the Throckmorton site, so I think it’s worth asking again,” said Shea. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, in the interest of making sure “that we don’t say no to a bird in the hand,” directed Brice to pursue negotiations with the responding solar firm while also working with Shea to explore further options with wind firms.

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