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ABILENE, TX-With the scramble toward alternative energy focusing on solar power and natural gas, wind energy is also starting to take its place as a viable, natural source. What this has meant is that places like West Texas, consisting of hundreds of miles of flat land, are being touted as an ideal place for the future of wind energy.

One reason for this is because, of course, wind farms’ windmills and turbines work best on certain types of land. Beth Finestone, director of Integra Realty Resources Inc.’s Los Angeles, CA office and an expert on wind farms says land for windmills and turbines doesn’t need to be flat, but does need to be known for creating wind. “A lot of focus is also where the wind is and what time of day it comes up,” she explains.

David Dominy, who is managing director with Integra Realty Resource’s Houston office says West Texas, where a lot of windmills and turbines can be found, isn’t one flat sheet of desert brown, festooned with tumbleweeds. The area, which begins west of Abilene and stretches northwest into the Texas panhandle, rises on a plateau the further north it goes. “That,” Dominy tells GlobeSt.com, “is where a lot of the wind is generated.”

West Texas, with its land and wind, is the target of those wanting to build wind farms. As a result, Abilene is becoming the target location for wind-oriented companies that need space. This means Abilene is building facilities to accommodate these companies. A local group, the Abilene Industrial Foundation, has constructed 100,000 square feet of speculative space for wind-related businesses.

Meanwhile, KBS Real Estate Investment Trust, Hackman Capital Partners and Calare Properties joined forces to buy and develop the 100-acre WindStar Industrial Center at 1000 E. Interstate 20. One company, Neo Energy Solutions Inc. signed a lease for 68,000 square feet in April. John Root, senior vice president with Hackman Capital Partners in Los Angeles, CA tells GlobeSt.com that another potential tenant is on tap for an additional 60,000 square feet. The entire park can be built out to 728,000 square feet.

Though space needed to host the wind companies isn’t vastly different from the regular run-of-the-mill industrial space, there are some specifications that need to be considered. “The space needs to have bay depth and distance to be able to take in, for example, those turbines and other huge elements,” Root explains. “They also tend to be heavier on outdoor storage, which is less of a problem in Texas.” Plenty of access to electrical power is also important, he adds.

Then there is the proximity to transportation infrastructure. “Road access is essential,” Root says. “The fewer turns, the better.”

Dominy says the Abilene Industrial Foundation is trying to put wind companies in large existing facilities. For example, Broadwind Energy Inc. last year opened a wind energy maintenance and service center in a 300,000-square-foot facility that once belonged to Lockheed Martin.

In addition to the major wind building and repair companies, a second group of users, the suppliers to the wind building and repair companies, will follow, though they won’t need huge space with plenty of depth. “Those users will need between 20,000 square feet and 40,000 square feet,” Dominy says.

Those primary and secondary space users are likely to descend on Abilene within the next one to two decades as the wind industry grows in West Texas. The Texas Public Utilities Commission recently approved $5 billion in infrastructure development for transmission lines, and those lines are going to be built from the Texas Panhandle to the coastal areas to link into the power grid.

“It’s been demonstrated that the wind turbines work, and that they can produce power, though less than 10% now,” Dominy says. The other forms of alternative energy, clean-coal plants and nuclear plants, are years away from development, and cost too much. “Wind energy is a viable alternative and the PUC has a facility in place to get that energy into a grid and delivered efficiently,” Dominy remarks.

And this, Root comments, is why Hackman, KBS and Calare partners are committed to the area. “The main reason we’re devoting time and energy to that area is because the wind industry is expected to grow dramatically for the foreseeable future,” he says. “The most recent wind resource study ranked Texas as potentially capturing 225,000 megawatts of energy. Right now only 7,000 megawatts are being captured.”

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