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Amazon's investments spilling into Scurry County's backyard

It's a small world and it's exciting to be part of it," Fritz said.

SCURRY COUNTY, Texas (KRBC) - Amazon's investments is making its way into Scurry County's backyard!

The county is now a green energy partner with the multi-billion dollar company.

Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos added a new wind farm into the county, with 100 turbines!

Getting into the facts first, the turbines cover more than 70,000 acres. The turbines generate three megawatts each, which is enough to power more than 90,000 homes!

The new wind farm is actually one of the largest of 18 wind and solar power projects from across the U.S., done by Amazon, and with oil and gas in Scurry County's history, this is just one more thing that will diversify its economy.

The estimated $200 million investment is extremely large for a community the size of Scurry County, county judge Ricky Fritz said. He said the turbines are on an electrical grid system to reduce the clutter of electricity.

"We have what's called a CREZ (short for Competitive Renewable Energy Zones) line, that since they generate such large volumes and high rates of electricity, that they go on a special line," Fritz said.

A ten-year abatement made this possible, otherwise, the cost of building the project would have been cost-prohibitive for Amazon. For the first five years, Amazon will pay $780 per megawatt, each year. For the last five years, Amazon will pay $1,220 per megawatt, each year.

Fritz explained that the amount they ended up paying in the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program was close to what would have come after the ten-year lifespan and depreciation, which means it was a good estimate and fair amount for everyone.

This does not include the amount property owners are getting the land lease from them because they are also getting a separate lease payment every year as well.

"It's amazing who would have thought this dirty, old West Texas wind would have blown in Amazon into Snyder, Texas, Fritz said.

He explained the electricity goes beyond West Texas.

"You can buy electricity from New Jersey, from this wind farm and that electricity probably never makes it all the way to New Jersey, but it's part of the system, but once it's part of that pool, you get to just buy out of that pool and so you may be purchasing green energy in Snyder, Texas and the electricity you're getting may come from solar farm," Fritz said.

This is not just the energy being generated. The investment is being made into the future of the Snyder Independent School District.

"We are preparing students for careers in high demand, high wage areas, if they want to concentrate specifically in those areas and health care," Rachael McClein, PhD, assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction said.

Snyder ISD is getting a $50,000 check out of the deal to expand the district's stem program.

"Our citizens get more educated about the dangers of different types of fuels and cleaner energies," Fritz said. "I think it's all of our responsibility to try to help our environment."

Doctor McClein said $30,000 of the grant will allow the district to add a virtual lab. 

"It'll have ten stations and the teachers can load modules into it and allow students to interact in a virtual reality setting, with everything from surgeries to flying drones," McClein said.

The lab will also include a maker-space area, hands on activities and a flexible classroom area, hoping to fuel the large need of STEM careers in west Texas.

"Snyder's very dependent on energy and these pathways that we have built for students is to concentrate on to give them experience and renewable energy as well as oil," McClein said.

McClein said STEM has a two-fold significance.

"We are giving them 21st century skills and so, that's the critical thinking, the creativity, the collaboration the and communication. Those are things that they're not going to be able to Google and those are things that we are hearing from our workforce that they want students to be able to do, successfully. So, that's a transferable skill to every aspect. Every career," McClein said.

McClein explained the program follows the four C's:

  1.  Critical thinking
  2.  Creativity
  3.  Communicate
  4.  Work together

The program has a pathway that focuses on computer science and programming, and engineering pathways( i.e. oil field, aerospace, mechanical). 

She said these are things that the Internet and technology is not going replace.

Nearly one hundred students are in the STEM program, ranging from grades 6th through 12th. 

"Our main purpose with this grant is that we are going to open a district stem lab that supports all the campuses, we are wanting to have more stem education opportunities for our elementary students so they're exposed to it," McClein said.

Another mission to help Snyder ISD is the Snyder Education Foundation.

The president of the foundation, Bill Christ, explained two things are done to help the district: giving out classroom grants each year and giving out scholarships to graduating seniors in not only Snyder High School, but all three public schools in Scurry County.

The program is more project-based. Because the STEM program has a more hands-on approach, McClein said it will be very flexible and stimulate a lot of creativity for the students and teachers.

"Every time that we put our students in a hands-on learning environment, our student engagement levels shoot up drastically," McClein said.

It is something Guines said he enjoys it very much!

"Whenever you're learning from a book, you're just kind of reading down texts and expected to remember that, but whenever we get to do projects like this, not only do we get to build and see how it's built as STEM is very based around engineering, but we get to see these laws of thermodynamics in action," Collin Guines said.

Lab partners, Collin Guines and Andrea Malmsten said the program will assist them in their STEM-based college careers. The 10th grade students are using what they have learned in their STEM class and applying it to making a miniature hot air balloon.

"If a crown is too big, it will cover up the top and make it too heavy. A crown on an actual hot air balloon is meant to release hot air and let cool air in, so the balloon can rise and sink. We don't really use if for that, so we have ours on there to hold the seams closed at the top, so that way hot air can't escape and having too big of a crown would cause it to sink down and it wouldn't float as high," Andrea Malmsten said. 

With the grant being used for a virtual lab, they said they are excited to see what is in store.

"It  gives children like us, you know teens, the chance to really explore the world through a wider lens, because not only do we have the backing of teachers and the program, but we have the backing of all these different companies," Guines said.

With something this great, it gives the students confidence, knowing the school is 100 percent behind their education, investing in their futures.

The STEM lab is currently under construction and will be available for use this spring semester. It will be in the old band hall.


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