Denton leaders look to wind energy

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by By STEVE STOLER / WFAA-TV

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Posted on July 3, 2009 at 10:19 AM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 3:38 PM

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One North Texas city just tossed its future energy needs to the wind. Literally.

Denton leaders believe by using wind power, they've taken a giant step toward producing greener and cleaner electricity that will lower their air pollution.

It's a move filled with hope and optimism in a city with the second-worst air quality in the region.

"You've got a renewable energy source that is unlimited," says Nextera Energy's Lindsey Hunt.

The Wolf Ridge Wind Farm sits in rural Cooke County, north of Muenster.

At first glance, it looks surreal, seeming like you've stumbled onto a futuristic set of a science fiction movie. The poles are enormous, towering 262 feet above the pastures.

Perhaps the most impressive sight is the blades, resembling giant propellers. Each one is 132 feet long and weighs 14 thousand pounds, turning into the wind.

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Nextera Energy, a subsidiary of Florida Power and Light, owns the wind farm, which produces electricity using the same principles as a child's pinwheel. Wind blows against the blades, rotating them. The blades are connected to a drive shaft, which turns a generator, and creates power.

From the wind farm, the electricity travels 30 miles southwest to several substations in Denton. The city-owned Denton Municipal Electric now gets 40 percent of all its power from Wolf Ridge, where wind is rarely in short supply.

"We're on the corner of the Great Plains and the Cross Timbers forest, and there's wind," said Mark Burroughs, Denton's mayor. "We can see it every day."

The mayor says his city had to do something. It ranks behind only Dallas with the regions' second worst air quality.

"Does Denton cause all of that? No. The prevailing winds bring a lot up," he said. "But we have to be part of the solution. All of us do."

Part of the solution is the Wolf Ridge turbines, which generate enough electricity to power 34,000 homes. Homeowners and Denton Municipal Electric customers Mark Valle and Kim Wells say while they like their newest source of power, they worry their fellow Texans are still too dependent on gas and oil.

"I don't know if the United States will ever get away from fossil fuel," Valle said.

University of North Texas student Steven Garza welcomes the wind-produced power at his rented Denton house and on campus.

"I think if we can use natural resources to power things like our electricity, it's definitely something we should be trying to do," Garza said.

Denton city leaders say the benefits of Wolf Ridge are abundant, just like the supply of wind near Muenster. It will never run out, there's no resulting air or water pollution, and ranchers' cattle can still graze in the shadows of the towering turbines.

"We have to create a new way of looking at things," Mayor Burroughs said. "Doing the same old thing, burning fossil fuels, is not the way to go."

When the winds die down during the summer, Wolf Ridge workers do most of their repairs and maintenance. They believe the winds they harness here are not the end-all solution to Texans' energy needs, but are at least a crucial piece of the puzzle.

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