North American towns like Sweetwater, Texas — originally fuelled by cheap land and wealth derived from cattle, minerals, timber, railroads and oil — once prompted dreams of success, grandeur and independence.
In the past few decades, however, many of these towns on the western side of the North American continent have been in economic decline as their boarded-up storefronts and a palpable reek of decay so sadly prove.
So it was with welcome pleasure that during a business trip through west Texas last week I was able to witness a rebirth of sorts, a renewed sense of optimism.
The cause of this latest reversal of fortunes? Wind power.
Indeed, in the past decade wind power has exploded here to the point that Sweetwater — located on rolling flatlands about 300 kilometres west of Dallas — appears to be surrounded by seemingly endless wind turbines, endlessly turning from ridge to ridge to ridge.
And just down the road, in the tiny hamlet of Roscoe, is the world’s largest wind farm, literally dominating the bright blue sky horizon. Consider: The 781.5 MW Roscoe wind complex boasts 627 turbines pumping green emissions-free electricity into the thirsty Texas grid.
It seems that signs of this new so-called “wind rush” are everywhere — from the cover of the local phone book that features a horse galloping along with a turbine in the background, to the local newspaper, the Sweetwater Reporter, that promotes wind turbines as part of its logo, to the town of Sweetwater’s website which also includes turbines in its corporate identity.
And then there’s John Kirgan, an antique dealer who’s lived in Sweetwater all his life and has seen his beloved town stall, fade and regress until, in the past 10 years, it began to experience a new lease on life because of the growing wind power sector.
“When the windmills came in, they generated a lot of money in town,” Kirgan, 65, said in an interview with the European Wind Energy Association. “The money they made in Sweetwater has to have made a difference.”
Increasingly harnessed, the gentle, dependable breezes of west Texas are now helping people stay in their hometowns, get good-paying jobs, feel proud of themselves and, once again, dream of a better future.