Generating security for the future

Tri Global Energy was founded on a simple idea: let landowners and the local community share in the equity, profit and royalties generated by their own wind farms.

My company’s business model has often been referred to as “community wind on steroids”, since our community-sponsored developments have the size and production capacity typically associated with projects undertaken by utilities and other large companies.

But there are several crucial differences.

  • Unlike with the utilities’ projects, all local landowners receive a share of the royalty income from a Tri Global wind farm, whether or not they have a turbine on their land.
  • Landowner leases cannot be terminated by the sole decision of the developer.
  • Development expenses are funded by local investors in conjunction with Tri Global.
  • After the wind farm is brought into operation, the local investors also receive a share of the royalties, helping the whole community.

Any farmer or rancher will tell you that being able to make a living off the land is one of God’s greatest blessings.

But this way of life in West Texas is being threatened by the loss of irrigation water caused by depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, exacerbated by a severe drought and adverse economic conditions. The income received from Tri Global wind farms will allow these people to stay on their land and to pass this way of life on from generation to generation.

I speak from personal experience. My own dream of growing up and farming our family land in West Texas, like my dad and grandad before me, could have been realised if we had had the additional revenue generated by something like a wind farm. I can tell you at first hand the disappointment and heartbreak of not being able to realise that dream, and I am proud that my company is able to help this generation of landowners maintain their way of life.

The company started leasing land for its first wind farm in late 2009 and now has about 2,700sq km under lease throughout West Texas, the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico, with a potential of 6.5GW. This acreage, spread over 17 wind farms in various stages of development ranging from 20MW to 1.5GW, has attracted more than 3,400 landowners and local investors.

Our Texas wind farms will have access to local municipalities through the regional grid operator, Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and the new competitive renewable energy zone transmission lines; to the eastern grids through Southwest Power Pool; and eventually to the western grids through the Tres Amigas “superstation”.

Tri Global’s business model, the Wind Force Plan, which has a patent pending, can be adapted to different geographical areas. Starting this year, we plan to expand operations into new areas with greenfield developments. Although the business model has worked extremely well for us, it is complicated to implement and requires a lot of time and management to stay in constant communication with landowners, community managers and investors — and so far, most of our competitors don’t seem to be interested in doing this.

I founded Tri Global in 2009 after significant research and consideration — and above all a gut feel that told me the time and circumstances were right for the emergence of wind and solar energy. I believe that even more strongly now.

I am passionate about helping renewables — particularly large-scale, community-sponsored wind — take their place alongside fossil fuels and nuclear in supplying America’s electricity needs.

I know wind in the US can compete on a level playing field, but one of the great challenges is the uncertainty of the continued availability of the production tax credit or the investment tax credit. All other forms of energy development and generation in the US make use of federal tax credits and loan guarantees in some form or another, and predictability about incentives for wind is crucial.

The time has come for traditional energy providers and renewables advocates to move beyond politics and start working together in a common cause as Americans to use our great national resources to make sure that the US does not ever again have to depend on other nations to supply its energy needs. This co-operation can be a win-win for both types of energy.

John B Billingsley Jr is founder, chief executive and chairman of Dallas-based clean-energy developer Tri Global Energy

This piece was published as part of the Thought Leaders series. Recharge’s Thought Leaders’ Club brings together leading thinkers and participants from the renewable energy sector to examine the key challenges facing our industry