Roscoe wind farm–the big one–West Texas, part 1

Note: Another birthday, another perplexingly ordinary trip. Last year, I hit up Oklahoma City for some bitterly cold fun along the old Route 66. This year, I managed to make my first visit to Lubbock, Texas and some surrounding West Texas metropolises. First of all, I must communicate something of utmost national importance: West Texas is flatter than Kansas. Really, I swear! Even with the landscape that surely inspired Head East’s epic 1974 album, Flat as a Pancake, a nine-hour driving tour of Lubbock, Abilene and Midland left us entranced and perplexed. Inspirational and thought-provoking findings included:

  • The world’s largest wind farm, and its “large” economic impact on the region
  • Abilene’s barbeque deliciousness, which inspired the impromptu development of a barbeque evaluation matrix
  • A small city of abandoned mega high-rises (i.e., Midland)
  • A treasure trove of abandoned mid-century buildings and thriving malls in Lubbock

Roscoe: You won’t just associate the name with Dukes of Hazzard anymore.

Sure, I had seen wind farms, but the Roscoe wind farm blew my mind (ha!) and changed my feelings toward the word roscoe forever. It all started in Lubbock’s lone brewery. (one of the only places that managed to legally sell packaged alcohol in the dry town until Lubbock turned “wet” a long time ago in 2009) At the brewery, we sat across from a couple of guys who managed to make me feel old, for once. They were some freewheeling travelers driving from Chicago to Los Angeles so one of them could pursue the ultimate young person fantasy: film. The trip had all the classic first-big-road-trip elements—like sleeping in your car and eating massive desserts for dinner because, well, you can. 

We got to chatting with them and discussed other elements of their trip, which included a big side trip through West Texas. I was a little perplexed at this diversion, until they told us about the world’s largest wind farm in Roscoe, Texas. They felt it was important to see the future of our country. Seth and I decided to pass through this mythical wind farm on our way to Abilene.

We drove southwest out of Lubbock on our way to Abilene early one morning. We even beat the sun in our start on the day. After we crossed incomprehensible miles of barren cotton fields, we saw wind turbines start to march across the plains. And we were in awe. Part of my fascination with them is that the turbines offer such sharp contrast to their surroundings. The glistening white spires rise more than 300 to 400 feet above the extremely flat, dull ground—higher than a 20-story building. The three blades are entrancing as well. They just spin so fast on top of those oh-so-thin towers, but yet slow enough so you can still see the individual blades. They’re like giant albino cartoon flowers. Of course, you can see these turbines on any old wind farm, but what made the Roscoe wind farm truly trippy and awe-inspiring was that these cartoonish flowers just kept coming at us for miles. We soon found ourselves in the midst of over 600 turbines covering more than 100,000 acres. And these were just enough turbines to power 250,000 homes.   

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Alright, so we saw tons of wind turbines, which is cool, but what I find even more fascinating are the stories behind the built environment. Here, I thought about the economic implications of these wind turbines. To better understand the implications, I wanted to stop by the nearby namesake town: Roscoe, Texas. The town’s name made it difficult to clear from images of Dukes of Hazzard from my head, (Rosco P. Coltrane is the pushover county sheriff and Boss Hogg’s sidekick) but I somehow managed to get past that to get a look at the town. An initial drive-through of the dusty community revealed what little impact the wind farms had on it. The only initial indication of the wind energy’s impact was a crude wind turbine painting on abandoned building windows. Not exactly awe-inspiring. As we progressed farther into the town, we did see some new buildings emblazoned with E.ON (the owner of the wind farm) and GE (one of the turbine manufacturers).

It was nice to see the new structures and incredibly shiny trucks out front, but the turbines’ economic impact seemed minimal. It’s one of things about job creation with renewable energy. I read reports that indicated there were close to 500 jobs in the area as the Roscoe turbines went up, but construction jobs are temporary in nature. Now, the region has about 70 jobs on a longer-term basis. Sure, 70 jobs is 70 jobs, but it seems like so few compared to the massive turbine investment, which cost upwards of $1 billion. The discovery of oil drove massive investments and job creation in West Texas, as we’ll see in a couple of posts from now with Midland, but the discovery of wind and how to harness it, hasn’t had quite the same economic impact.

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