It is difficult to appreciate the size of wind generating turbines without getting close to them.

They can be seen long before they are heard.

But the alternative energy-generating structures can spark controversy.

The often contentious debate about the turbines centers around Texas landowners who oppose the devices and alternative energy producers who are all for them.

Despite the controversy, Texas is set to become home to a test facility for wind generators.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn recently announced that Texas is one of two U.S. sites chosen for a large-scale wind turbine research and testing facility.

The Lone Star Wind Alliance has proposed to build the facility in the Gulf coast town of Ingleside-on-the-Bay, north of Corpus Christi.

The alliance also chose a site in Massachusetts.

“Texas has long been a world leader in energy. It is projects like this that demonstrate our state remains at the forefront of energy advances. Wind power is a growing alternative source of energy that promises an eventual reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels,” Cornyn said in a June 25 press release.

Cornyn is one of several members of the Texas congressional delegation who sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman in support of the effort to build the facility in Texas.

“Wind energy is one of the cleaner, alternative energy sources that we must continue pushing. Increasing development and production of these sources will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and meet our growing energy demands, while doing so in an environmentally friendly way,” Cornyn said.

Jerry Patterson, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office welcomes the announcement by the Energy Department.

“This is the birth of a new industry here in Texas,” Patterson said. “Once we build these test facilities, the wind turbine and blade manufacturers will come. I think there will be plenty of business for both Texas and Massachusetts to come out winners.”

Molded Fiber Glass Companies (MFG Co.) — a Gainesville manufacturing facility — makes composite blades for wind turbines and is doing a brisk business lately, according to Wes Champ, corporate vice president and general manager for MFG Co.

The company employs 225 “teammates,” Champ said and is “currently investigating the possibility of expansion.”

Any expansion is expected to come about in early 2008, he said.

MFG Co. manufactures both heavy truck components for corporations such as Peterbilt and wind turbine blades.

Champ said he prefers not to identify his wind turbine customers, but said his company is a member of the American Wind Energy Association.

He agrees that there are pros and cons to the issue of wind turbines, and advises people who would like to learn more about this alternative source of energy to go the American Wind Energy Association’s Web site at www.awea.org.

“In a time when we have so much foreign influence I think looking to renewable energies has to be a plus,” Champ said.

There are a growing number of turbine manufacturers in this country, he noted, including G.E. Energy. Companies outside the U.S. are apparently also looking to build here.

“Two or three European (manufacturers) are interested in building turbine plants in the United States,” he said.

MFG marked its 10th anniversary in Gainesville June 7. But there were no celebrations at the facility.

“We’re just too busy,” Champ said.

The wind turbine components are not designed in Gainesville, he explained.

“We build the components to the customers’ specifications. We do not design them here,” Champ said.

The research facility near Corpus Christi is scheduled to develop the next generation of wind turbine technology which is designed to increase the number of kilowatts per turbine and increase the efficiency of the generators, according to the Department of Energy. Planners for the facility say they hope to capitalize on Texas’ reputation as an offshore producing powerhouse.

“By locating the facility in Texas, we will benefit from the ability to leverage the skills and knowledge available from the offshore industry,” said Bob Lukefahr, president of BP Power Americas.

Many who oppose the construction of the large wind generators, say the structures —which are often erected on rolling hills in bucolic settings — distract from the beauty of the scenery.

Others contend the generators are dangerous for birds and other wildlife and that they emit a whining, thumping or humming sound which can cause headaches and other health issues.

But Champ sees a lot of good potential in the turbines.

“Wind energy does have its requirements and it does require investments, but it is good for the economy and good for the environment,” Champ said. Patterson said he hopes the test facility will do for Corpus Christi what NASA did for Houston during the space race of the 1960s.

Reporter Delania Trigg may be contacted at dtrigg@ntin.net

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