Small North Texas Town to Power Massive Facebook Center

August 13, 2015

This story originally appeared on WFAA, the Dallas-Fort Worth ABC affiliate. Click here for the original story.

Henrietta, Texas, doesn’t get much traffic; online or otherwise.

A cattle trailer rattling through downtown echoes like gunshots off quiet buildings surrounding the Clay County courthouse.

So when some strangers from California showed up asking questions a while back, County Judge Kenneth Liggett figured something big was up in his little town near Wichita Falls.

“I told my secretary when they left, ‘I don’t know who they were,'” he recalled. “I don’t know what they wanted. And I don’t know whether they found out what they wanted or not.”

They did find out what they wanted. And eventually Judge Liggett found out, too, when he got invited to a party in early July with big wig developers and politicians, including the governor.

They broke ground on a massive Facebook data center in north Fort Worth. A deal worth almost $1 billion.

“I don’t do Facebook. I’ve got enough just answering the phone,” he said. The phone rang. He took the call.

“When your wife calls, you answer,” he grinned. He’s a big man with a deep drawl, and deeper roots in the countryside — a former dairy farmer.

Judge Liggett doesn’t “do” Facebook. But he sure “likes” it.

Because Facebook agreed to buy all the power the new Shannon Wind Farm will generate.

And that means money. Eight million dollars over a span of 10 years, more or less, Judge Liggett said.

A lot, in a county where kids leave farms for city paychecks, and oil doesn’t bring what it used to.

Enough money, they hope, to prop up the struggling county-owned hospital. Maybe lure another doctor.

“We have three doctors in the community,” he said. “Actively seeking a fourth.”

He said Clay County has a population of about 10,000.

They hope revenue from the development also spins off enough to help restore the 1895 courthouse.

Alterra Power of Canada is raising 119 wind turbines about 30 minutes from Henrietta. It’s highly-specialized work.

Emphasis on high. Heads pop up on top of a tower about 20 stories up, as a crane lowers a nacelle neatly onto bolts, like sinking a putt. Over radios, workers guide the crane operator.

“Three inches. Two. Hold up,” they say.

“The nacelle on the top is about 60,000 pounds,” said project manager Jay Walker. “The blades are approximately 15,000.”

Construction started in December. And now, on average, they complete two wind turbines every day. They expect to bring the Shannon wind project on line later this year.

Judge Liggett says what the Facebook men mainly wanted to know when they came to town was whether the community would welcome this on their rugged land. Some residents objected.

But the project manager says relations with landowners have been good. Liggett says he’s heard so few complaints, he’s hoping for more windmills.

“I’m tickled to death,” he smiled. “It’s the bottom line of what will make the county keep going.”