A French energy company that boasts wind power projects in Brazil, India, Norway and Kansas has set its sights just outside Mart, a one-stoplight town 20 miles from Waco.
Where wind turbines may soon stand on a property straddled by Farm-to-Market Road 939 and JPM Road, 2 miles away from Mart’s city center, tall native grasses blew in the wind as Mayor Len Williams, also the interim superintendent of Mart Independent School District, described Engie North America Inc.’s proposed Prairie Hill Wind Farm project as a breath of fresh air to the community of 2,000 people, and to the school district’s tax base.
If the sustainable energy project receives final approval from state and local agencies, along with Engie investors, 300 wind turbines will be constructed across 52,000 acres in McLennan and Limestone Counties.
Texas, the nation’s leading oil-producing state, also leads the country in wind power production capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
On average, each turbine produces about 1 megawatt of energy, enough to power about 200 homes during peak periods. Wind energy produced from the proposed Prairie Hill Wind Farm would provide electricity to Engie’s private customers rather than residents of Mart.
Wind speeds in Mart average about 7 meters per second at a height of 80 meters, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Areas with annual average wind speeds of about 6.5 meters per second are considered suitable for wind energy development, according to the DOE.
Most of the proposed turbines would be on land in the boundaries of Mart ISD, adding to the district’s tax base, and some turbines would be on vacant district property, adding land’s value, Williams said.
Each turbine could add about $1 million in property value, raising the prospect of a $300 million boost in taxable property value, he said.
But Engie and the district have applied for a Chapter 313 School Value-Limitation Agreement with the state that would limit the company’s property taxes due to the district for at least 10 years, Williams said.
“If they (Engie) don’t get exempt from paying some of them (taxes) they won’t do it,” Williams said. “And that’s how it is everywhere.”
About 500 school districts in Texas have similar value-limitation agreements or applications on file with the Secretary of State. About 200 of those agreements are with wind energy companies.
Williams said the renewable energy project could be a “big shot in the arm” if it means the cash-strapped district receives an additional $50,000 in annual state funding for the next 15 years.
Right now the project is in a “mid-level” development stage, Engie spokeswoman Julie Vitek said.
“We have secured land for the project and are working on the proposed layout of the wind farm as well as determining the optimal wind turbine type,” Vitek said.
Area landowners have already received an initial $8,000 from Engie for use of the land, another $5,000 for legal services, and a promise to pay an undisclosed amount to each landowner annually, Williams said.
“That helps them out a little bit,” he said. “They were all really excited about it.”
The average median household income in Mart is about $34,000, about $20,000 less than the national average.
If approved, the project could add seven full-time jobs to the local economy and 200 temporary construction jobs, Williams said.
Construction could start by late next year, Vitek said. If everything goes smoothly, the wind farm could start commercial operation in 2020.
At first glance, the students throwing a football to each other from the tops of telephone poles may seem to be goofing around.
But the Texas State Technical College students aren’t just having fun. They’re also subconsciously perfecting their balance and strength, developing a second nature for staying secure to a pole 40 feet off the ground, TSTC officials in Waco said.
The exercise is part of TSTC’s Electrical Lineworker Technology program, a top-ranked program that has attracted the attention of companies such as Austin Energy, Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Oncor and Pike Electric Corp. Like football coaches scouting a game, electric company representatives drop by each semester and track standout students they’re hoping to recruit for a high-turnover industry, said Cheryl Lloyd, a TSTC program maintenance specialist.
Representatives from Austin Energy, the city of Austin’s electric utility, which serves more than 490,000 customer accounts and more than a million residents, have even done interviews onsite at TSTC, said Craig Ptomey, Austin Energy electric services delivery program manager.
“Pretty much any student that finishes that program at TSTC, if they want a job in this industry, they’ll be able to get a job,” Ptomey said. “It’s a very good school, very good value.”
Best in Texas
Universities.com recently named TSTC as having the state’s best electrical lineworker technology program for 2018. Besides its Waco flagship campus, TSTC also offers the Electrical Lineworker Technology program in Fort Bend County and Marshall.
Several students who are about to graduate with job offers already in hand said they can understand why the program gets those plaudits.
Lee Krumnow, 21, of Riesel, said he graduates Dec. 7 with an associate degree and his commercial license. Krumnow said he initially discovered the program after a friend told him about it. He said he initially thought the frequent heights might be an issue but he quickly overcame that fear.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Krumnow said. “I used to race dirt bikes and stuff and jump all kinds of stuff. This is kind of right there next to it and I love it. I’m not really an inside person. You’re out in rain, snow, shine, you’re always going to climb.”
Krumnow said the football exercise has helped give him the training needed for hanging onto a pole even in stormy weather.
“You’re switching around from leg to leg,” he said. “It helps your balance and it’s fun.”
Eric Carithers, TSTC’s statewide Distribution and Industrial Electrical Systems department chair, said he wants not only to maintain the top state ranking but shoot for best in the nation.
“TSTC never wants to be complacent as a technical college, as technology is changing every second,” Carithers said in a statement.
There are 80 certificate and associate degree students in the program this fall, and the program accepts 35 new students each semester.
Part of TSTC’s campus includes an outdoor section dedicated to the electrical lineworker students. Under instructor guidance, students learn to climb various telephone poles and transition around obstacles on the pole as they go, Lloyd said. Wearing at least 30 pounds of equipment, the students use two belts wrapped around the pole, along with spikes in their shoes, to steadily navigate from the ground to the top of a pole.
“This is really intense on the body,” she said. “Not just the upper and lower, but the whole body, your core to keep balance.”
Safety a priority
She said the belts used to secure lineworkers to the pole ensure no one is in danger of falling.
“At any given time if they were to let go with both their hands, both their feet, they’re falling they are going to hang up there,” Lloyd said.
Students practice a lot of “up/downs” as a 60-foot pole can sway above the ground even without wind, she said. The football practice also ensures the students are focusing, as whoever misses or drops the ball, must go all the way back to the ground to get the ball, she said.
“That way, whenever they are out in a bad storm, the weather’s bad and they can’t really see, their fingers are cold, their feet are cold, and they’ve been up there for half an hour, they are still OK it’s just second nature. They are going to go up that poll and come back down,” she said.
Each class places a heavy emphasis on safety, she said.
“Nothing that they work on has electricity on it. It’s all dead but we treat it like it’s live,” she said. ”Safety is paramount. Every class they have has safety in it.”
The demand for qualified lineworkers is high, Lloyd said.
“Right now, we’re going through a phase where a lot of the industry is full of people about to retire,” she said. “There’s also a lot of places where there wasn’t utility before and now we’re expanding. With progress comes expansion. You expand and then you need electricity.”
Ptomey said the demand for good lineworkers is strong across the industry, and Austin Energy has felt it as well. Ptomey said the company learned about TSTC’s program roughly three years ago and did a site visit to see how the classes were taught and what the campus looked like. Representatives spoke to a class in summer 2016 and then performed interviews on site, he said. They hired six people that first recruitment effort, he said.
There’s another lineworker school in Denton, but the company prefers to scout students from TSTC, he said. Austin Energy also in 2011 helped Austin Community College develop its lineworker program and continues to maintain a partnership with the school, he said.
Austin Energy representatives visit multiple community events throughout Austin working to point those interested to continuing education for the lineworker program, said Diane Kerlin, Austin Energy human resources adviser. But nothing beats word of mouth, she said. Many who join the industry do so because a friend or family member have worked as lineman, she said.
“It’s a brotherhood,” she said. “This is definitely going to be a very hard-to-fill position and very in demand for many years. They will not have a hard time finding a job.”
Jordan Tatro, 19, of Moody, said he’s learned through his courses that life as a lineman means every day is different. It’s a quality of the job he looks forward too, Tatro said.
Tatro, who graduates Dec. 7, said he has several possible jobs lined up. Tatro said he’s come a long way since first starting the program. It originally took him 45 minutes just to reach the top of a telephone pole, he said. Now he can climb up and down safely in 10 minutes, he said.
Oncor spokesperson Briana Monsalve said TSTC provides an in-depth program and produces well-rounded lineman upon graduation along with the school’s impressive facility. Monsalve said Oncor keeps an eye on students in TSTC’s program as previous hires have produced a skilled workforce, nimble, and adaptive to the changing needs of the industry.
“They have a good foundation and understanding of what it takes and what they need to do,” she said.
Oncor works to take a proactive role with technical colleges to ensure the institutes of higher education continue to provide a pipeline of talent for the industry. Oncor representatives serve on TSTC’s advisory board to help the program’s curriculum stay current, she said.
“We’re really about being a part of the program in helping with the development of the future workforce,” she said. “We’re committed to the fostering of a really well-trained workforce.”
Junior Soto, 21, of Clifton, said climbing was second nature to him when he showed up at TSTC, having been a regular tree-climber as a kid.
Soto said he learned about the program through a family member and began to research the opportunities associated with becoming a lineman.
Soto, who has one more semester before graduating, said learning to safely navigate the power lines and other obstructions on the pole was a challenge. But now, he said, he can easily work his way around.
“You just want to be able to get up and down the pole safely you’ve got to be in some kind of physical shape to go up and down because it gets tiring,” he said.
McLennan Community College business and technology students may have new space for their studies in two years with McLennan Community College board members giving the green light this week to a $7 million renovation of the college’s Business and Technology Building.
The renovation would put the school’s business and technology offerings under one roof, freeing up classrooms and faculty offices in the Michaelis Academic Center for use by Tarleton State University and Texas Tech University adjuncts in the University Center.
The building upgrade includes 14 classrooms, 30 offices, eight offices for adjuncts, two laboratories, three work-study rooms for students, three staff-faculty workrooms, and restroom facilities, including one family restroom.
It is the first major renovation of the Business and Technology Building since its construction in 1968, and the renovated space would serve MCC’s largest academic program, the Business & Industry Pathway, which has some 900 students.
When completed, the Business and Technology Building will house classes in accounting, business management, marketing, economics, computer information systems and multimedia, health information technology, real estate, hospitality management, media communications and marketing, office technology and supply chain & operations management.
Board members approved the building renovation in their meeting Tuesday, along with a plan to finance the work through bonds paid back over 15 years through the college’s Capital Improvement Fund. The bonds will not require a change to the college’s property tax rate.
MCC President Johnette McKown said the renovation project is a sensible way to meet the college’s need for space and cover needed Business and Technology Building repairs.
McKown said regardless of the larger renovation, the building would need more than $1.5 million in improvements over the next five years, including roof replacement, HVAC and lighting systems, ADA-compliant restrooms and elevator modernization.
“This will be a much more efficient use of an under-utilized building,” she said.
When the Business and Technology Building opened to students 50 years ago, typing classes were part of the curriculum and computer classes used punch cards, McKown said.
The projected cost presented by RBDR Architects at the meeting included $5,703,000 for construction and renovation; $477,000 for soft costs including fees, surveying and testing; $650,000 for furniture; $100,000 for asbestos abatement; and $70,000 to upgrade the elevator.
Board members will vote in February on authorizing the revenue bonds. If the bonds are approved, construction is expected to start in late May with completion anticipated by the summer of 2020.
“We try to build for the future, but you won’t see anything fancy,” McKown said.
AUSTIN — The Kennedys had their New England coastal hideaway in Hyannis Port, a Camelot-like mystique and a political godfather in Joseph P. Kennedy.
For the country’s other political dynasty — the Bushes — it was a summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the West Texas oil patch that created a mix of Yale blue-blood and backcountry cowboy, and their own patriarch in George H.W. Bush.
Bush, who died late Friday at age 94 , was a World War II hero, a Texas congressman, the director of the CIA, vice president and eventually president. His son, George W., served as Texas governor and two terms in the White House.
Though another son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, turned monster fundraising into an embarrassingly short-lived 2016 presidential run — his campaign eviscerated by Donald Trump — the family’s future political prowess remains intact, including with Jeb’s 42-year-old son, George P. Bush, who is seen as a rising GOP star by Republican powerbrokers nationwide. He currently is Texas land commissioner, leading a powerful state agency that oversees mineral rights critical to oil and natural gas exploration on Texas’ 13 million acres of public land.
“I think when people hear the name George H.W. Bush they think of the word ‘statesman,’” George P. Bush told The Associated Press in 2013. “And I think his career really represents a generation that many Americans now and in the future will consider our country’s greatest generation.”
Some historians regard George H.W. Bush as more-bipartisan than his presidential successors — and his softer-spoken, humbler style is a far cry from Trump. Bush is also remembered as ending the Cold War, though he also invaded Panama and brought America to war for the first time against Saddam Hussein.
But defining an overall Bush family political legacy gets tougher, though, when considering that George W. Bush led the Iraq War in 2003, accusing Hussein of having non-existent weapons of mass destruction. And while the elder Bush’s 1992 re-election bid was marred by his reneging on his “Read my lips: No new taxes” pledge, the younger Bush presided over a financial crisis that triggered the Great Recession.
Russ Baker, author of “Family of Secrets,” a biography of the Bushes, said the family is better known for building an enduring political dynasty than for their policy or ideology, especially by following the lead of George H.W. Bush and his wife of 73 years, Barbara, who died in April 2018.
“They meet people and they all know to collect the name of every person you ever meet. Grandfather and grandmother had a Christmas card list of 40,000,” Baker said in 2017.
“The Bush family are the greatest ever at leveraging their communal family assets. Better, I believe, than even the Kennedys,” he added. “They are masters, they all get it. They understand this is what they are supposed to do.”
Developing powerful friends across business and politics has helped the family build and maintain a large network of national Republican donors that has continued to support the Bushes through its revolving cast of candidates.
Beyond fundraising, though, George H.W. Bush earned entree into the Mexican oil business in the 1960s after first meeting an executive from that country at a Texas A&M football game. Family ties to financiers helped Jeb Bush get his start in Florida real estate in the 1980s, and connections aided in George W. Bush’s becoming part owner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 until being elected Texas governor in 1994.
Jeb Bush, who built his career in Florida rather than the East Coast or Texas, also brought a multiculturalism to the family that didn’t serve him well in a nationalistic-minded 2016 campaign dominated by Trump but another dimension to the Bush clan. His wife, Columba, was born in Mexico, and Jeb and George P. Bush like to chat in Spanish.
Still, George H.W. Bush, while vice president in 1998, introduced George P. and Jeb’s other children to President Ronald Reagan as the “little brown ones.” Bush subsequently bristled at suggestions that was racist, saying his heart contained “nothing but pride and love” for his grandchildren.
The Bush family has for more than a century helped shape the American business and energy sectors, as well as politics.
Born during the Civil War, Samuel Prescott Bush was George H.W. Bush’s grandfather and built the family fortune as a railroad and steel magnate, mostly in Ohio. His son, Prescott Sheldon Bush, was a Yale graduate and investment banker twice elected to the U.S. Senate from Connecticut. He left office in 1963, the same year John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the year after Teddy Kennedy was elected senator from Massachusetts.
George H.W. Bush also went to Yale, but to make his own name for himself apart from past Bush successes, he headed to Texas and the oil business — before being elected to Congress from Houston in 1966.
George P. Bush — the “P’’ stands for Prescott — went to Afghanistan as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer. He later accomplished something no one else in the family ever had in 2014: he won the first political race he ever entered in securing Texas’ land commissionership.
George H.W. Bush lost his first race in politics, for the U.S. Senate from Texas in 1964. Fourteen years later, George W. Bush was defeated in his first race, for a West Texas congressional seat, and Jeb Bush was unsuccessful in his first Florida gubernatorial bid in 1994. Even Prescott Sheldon Bush came up short in his first his bid for political office, when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1950.
George P. Bush, the only member of his family to campaign for Trump after his father dropped out of the race, largely shrugs off questions about his family dynasty and his responsibility for keeping it alive politically. His father’s 2016 loss could also alleviate some of the political dynastical pressures that might otherwise have hampered his future career.
He said that former first lady Barbara Bush made clear that family members wouldn’t be able to coast on their last name alone. “It’s always been the thing of my grandmother to, ‘Go out and make a name for yourself,’” Bush said in 2013.
He characterized the family credo as: “Service to others, giving back whenever you can, counting your blessings and being good to those who are good to you.”