Winds of Change Blow into Roscoe, Texas Three years ago, the Dairy Queen closed in Roscoe, Texas – a sure sign of bad times. But these days, people are moving back to the West Texas town, with its growing reputation as a sweet spot for wind-farm energy.

Winds of Change Blow into Roscoe, Texas

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Yesterday, as part of our Climate Connections series with National Geographic, NPR's John Burnett reported on efforts to reduce the emissions of global warming gases in Texas. The Lone Star State spews more carbon dioxide into the air than any other state, and more than most developed countries. Most Texans are not aware of that fact, nor do they appreciate that Texas also has the nation's and the world's largest concentration of wind power, which is touted as a solution to climate change.

Today, John Burnett visits the once-dying town of Roscoe, Texas, which is about to become Wind City, USA.

(Soundbite of wind turbine blades)

JOHN BURNETT: There's a new sound out here on the green grid of cotton fields that make up what West Texans affectionately call the Big Country. Those are the spinning carbon-fiber blades of a wind turbine.

Roscoe is about to become the locus of one of the biggest wind farms in the world, largely due to the vision of a one-armed, 65-year-old cotton farmer named Cliff Etheredge. He's often spotted careening around the county in his canary yellow, open-top jeep.

Mr. CLIFF ETHEREDGE (Cotton Farmer): We used to curse the wind. Killed our crops, carried the moisture away, dried out our land. But because of the advent of the wind farms, we've had a complete 180-degree attitude change. Now, we love the wind.

BURNETT: A few years ago, Etheredge noticed wind towers sprouting up elsewhere in the county and wondered if Roscoe could cash in on the great West Texas wind boom. So he read up on wind energy, took his own wind speed measurements, organized landowners and went hunting for investors.

He hit the jackpot. A company called Airtricity, out of Dublin, Ireland, is spending more than a billion dollars installing as many as 640 huge windmills around Roscoe. Together, they'll generate 800 megawatts, enough to power 265,000 homes. That once-cursed wind that blows across the Big Country may ultimately pay royalties to as many as 400 property owners.

Mr. ETHEREDGE: No one could've imagined this three years ago. It's absolutely unbelievable.

BURNETT: Look at nearly any direction from Roscoe and you can see the white towers of wind turbines rising into the cerulean sky like giant candlesticks. Some residents of Nantucket Sound may think the 400-foot tall structures are unsightly, but they don't think that out here.

Mr. DAYLON ALTHOF (Farmer): My wife and I talked about this the other day. We were coming in from church, and she said, you know, at first I really thought they were kind of trashy looking. But she said, the more I see these going up, you know, they're kind of beautiful because we know what they're going to provide for the economy around here.

BURNETT: Daylon Althof is a farmer who has one turbine going up on his land. He says the income from the windmill is more dependable than dry-land cotton farming, where drought and hail are constant threats. Depending on the size of the turbine, a landowner can receive $5,000 to $15,000 per windmill per year.

Mr. ALTHOF: A lot of the farmers around here are getting 10 to 20 towers, so it's going to make living in Roscoe a lot easier for those of us that are farmers here.

BURNETT: Wind energy experts say the bleak expanse of West Texas is the nation's sweet spot - a near-constant wind speed of 17 miles per hour, underused transmission lines, wide-open spaces and friendly landowners. What's more, Texas lawmakers created a hungry market when they wrote a law eight years ago that requires utilities to buy renewable power.

(Soundbite of train whistle)

BURNETT: On the federal level, a tax credit encourages investors to put money into wind power. All of this came just in time for Roscoe - population: 1,300 -where the trains don't stop anymore. Worse, the Dairy Queen closed three years ago. In West Texas, Etheredge says, that means your town is really in trouble.

Mr. ETHEREDGE: When I was a kid, all the traffic from Fort Worth to El Paso came right through town. Well, the interstate bypassed the town and that's when it began to just dry up. And these - all these stores began to close and no one reopened them. And no one came back home from college or school, none of the young people did or very few of them. So mainly we've got a lot of old folks in this town.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ETHEREDGE: That's about it.

BURNETT: But there are signs of life. Walking along Broadway Street, Etheredge points with his good arm — he lost the other one to a cotton harvester — to the cafe that's just expanded and the new Mexican restaurant.

Mr. ETHEREDGE: Hopefully, we'll see Roscoe reborn here.

BURNETT: A group of civic boosters has formed the Roscoe Wind Council, which last month held the first annual West Texas Wind Harvest Festival. Eventually, they hope to coax cars off the interstate to the Wind Energy Visitors Center, which is still in the conception phase.

Once known for its venerable high school football mascot, the Plowboys, Roscoe wants to reinvent itself, says Cliff's son David. He and his wife moved back home, in part, to participate in the windfall.

Mr. DAVID ETHEREDGE: You know, I've talked with a number of people about Nolan County and about Roscoe and this wind farm. No one realizes that we're going to have more installed wind capacity than most countries. And that's something that we need to promote to create a name for this community.

BURNETT: The electricity generated by an 800-megawatt wind farm is pollution-free. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, using a coal-fired plant to produce that same power would annually create some 2 million tons of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas. But people out here don't spend a lot of time thinking about how they're saving the planet. They may love the windmills but, in fact, a lot of them are dubious about the whole concept of global warming, like cotton and pecan farmer Jim Boston.

Mr. JIM BOSTON (Cotton and Pecan Farmer): Everybody likes crisis-type situations and this has gotten very popular, particularly with the media and so forth. There are quite a few scientists that feel like this is normal oscillations in the weather patterns and so forth, and that's more or less my viewpoint also.

BURNETT: Out here, the excitement over the wind farm is all about another kind of green. Jay Suggs is a truck driver who quit his job hauling oil rigs to work for Airtricity.

Mr. JAY SUGGS (Truck Driver): They put one in my backyard if they want to. I'd sure make room for it back there. I'd tear down my shop, let them put a wind turbine for that wind turbine make more a lot money than that shop will.

BURNETT: Wind energy is transforming the landscape of West Texas. The sight of rotating white blades on a distant mesa is now as common as a bobbing pump jack. The wind boom is the next big thing, just like oil was half a century ago. But the people out here are immutable.

Mr. ETHEREDGE: Interesting thing about these windmills for those people who come through the country and want to know what they're for, we tell them that we turn them on when it gets real still and hot around here, so it'll create a breeze and cool this country off.

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News.

Mr. ETHEREDGE: Some of them actually believe it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: And you can take a tour of Roscoe, Texas, and its new wind farms with Cliff Etheredge in a narrated slideshow at And there, you can also find the latest global warming coverage from National Geographic magazine.

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