More than 100 people shuffled into a warm room at the Comanche Community Center last week, on June 18th. These rural Texans gathered to tell stories of the real-life impacts of wind development—the side that is often unheard.
“There is flicker and there is noise,” one gentleman recounted, echoing numerous comments about the hours of lost sleep caused by their unwanted neighbors. Another spoke up for the Comanche he knew before, offering a dire warning for others: “You won’t ever see that Milky Way again.”
But it wasn’t all scenic overlooks, sunsets, and star-studded skies. The audience commented on the faltering economic logic of the projects and the closed-door meetings that make them possible.
“How come our taxes are going up? The papers were full. This was going to pay for new schools!” Abatements under Texas Property Tax Code Chapter 312 and 313—those given to the local wind farm—upset the citizens, who saw their local officials handing out incentives away from public scrutiny (deliberations about the agreements are exempt from Texas’s open meetings and public information laws) with little or no benefit.
Without subsidies, recent Texas Public Policy Foundation research indicated wind farms often aren’t feasible. And even with the abatements, wind farms don’t provide many jobs; more than 50% of all Chapter 313 agreements had the requirement to bring jobs reduced or waived, with 87% of those in the renewable industry.
The tension is heightened in small towns, where an elected official is often a friend. One gentleman spoke for all present when he said, “I hate that it pits neighbor against neighbor.” It was obvious: secrecy and cronyism did not mesh with local values.
“It’s important to get people organized and stay in their faces. I don’t care if they have closed-door meetings, you just tell them you are going to vote them out and you need to make that happen.” Tough words to the lawmakers met with applause. Those gathered were not there because their voices were heard; they came together because they weren’t.
Preventing this from happening elsewhere need not be complicated. It’s high time to repeal laws that allow undue secrecy in governing and end crony policies that grant favors to the select few at the expense of the many. It might be too late to roll back wind development in Comanche, but it is not too late for others.