We’ve all heard the phrase “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” The cliché is often dismissed as an exaggerated claim to fame, but from the impressive scale of high-school football stadiums to the vast prairies and star-speckled night skies, “big” takes on an entirely different meaning in the Lone Star State. So it’s only fitting that Apex is scaling up in Texas with a cutting-edge project of such magnitude that it will produce green fuels in volumes not yet seen in the United States.
In Schleicher County—a ranching community with a population of just 2,400—the only industry of this scale historically has been oil and gas, but for the most part, active oil rigs and tanker trucks are a rare sight these days.
“This was a thriving little town. It’s hard to believe that, but we had restaurants on nearly every corner when I was growing up,” reminisced Debra Joy, a lifelong resident and owner of the local feed store.
It’s easy to see the changes that Debra and her husband Kerry have witnessed during their nearly five decades living and working on the family ranch—the charming downtown has a lot of vacancies, and options are limited for grabbing a bite. The absence of local amenities sends people to nearby San Angelo for essentials and entertainment. But an abundance of local pride is on display, with freshly maintained landscaping on the main drag and a local paper whose editor stubbornly and often singlehandedly defies the fate that’s befallen many small-town newsrooms across the country.
“This is a great rural community. Everybody knows everybody, and there’s tremendous local pride,” said Robert Gibson, superintendent of the Eldorado Independent School District. “The community really supports the school and everything that the kids do. It’s a true blessing to be here.”
Still—opportunities for that next generation are lacking.
“The kids who are born and raised in Eldorado don’t seem to come back, and you can’t blame them,” said Kerry. “The community is not as bubbly as it needs to be. I believe this project with Apex is going to help that situation.”
Blazing a Big Trail
Just down the road from Eldorado, Apex is developing a new kind of renewable project—a green hydrogen production, storage, transportation, and export hub. Within that hub are multiple production sites, including Big Trail, each comprising wind, solar, and battery storage facilities, to be co-located with electrolyzers that will transform electricity into green fuels. For West Texas, the green fuels technology is brand new, but the clean power components are familiar: Big Trail spans Menard, Kimball, Sutton, and Schleicher Counties, and the latter already boasts a wind farm, so the community has seen the substantial benefits that the industry generates locally.
“The people I know who host wind turbines right now did not originally want a wind farm, but their neighbors signed onto the project, so they thought, ‘Well, we’ll do it too,’” said Kerry. “Now, you talk to them, and they say the wind farm is the best thing that ever happened to them. It’s good extra income and good for the community.”
The Joys, who had to sell the entirety of their livestock during the drought of 2011, understand firsthand the importance of that supplemental income for ranchers and signed onto the Big Trail project as landowners. But, for them, Big Trail represents the ability for their grandsons to enjoy the lifestyle they’ve loved.
“This is a 30-year project. This is going to benefit my grandchildren, and that’s why we’re doing it—for the extra income that it should produce for our family—my daughters and my grandchildren,” Kerry remarked.
“It’s very, very important that we try our hardest to progress, and that’s exactly what’s happening with Apex. This project is a wonderful thing, bringing success for Eldorado.”
“No one handles change well, but if we stay status quo, then we’re behind the eight ball, so to speak,” added Debra. “It’s very, very important that we try our hardest to progress, and that’s exactly what’s happening with Apex. This project is a wonderful thing, bringing success for Eldorado.”
Over its operating lifetime, Big Trail will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in landowner payments and tax revenue—dollars that will help power generations of ranching families and the local community alike.
“Not only the school district, but the hospitals and the county—all of these entities are going to benefit from the Big Trail project,” said Gibson. “This combination of wind, solar, and hydrogen gas is such a blessing for a rural area like us. Our kids having an opportunity to witness it and be a part of it is unbelievable in a place like rural West Texas.”
Of course, developing something of this magnitude is no easy feat. Like all of Apex’s projects, Big Trail will succeed because of the local relationships built and the mutual interest the company shares with communities in projects that improve the lives of the people who live near them. The jobs, local tax dollars, and possibilities presented by a project the size of Big Trail could transform Eldorado. Or, if the town prefers, restore it. And—even in Texas—there’s nothing bigger than that.
A New Energy Opportunity
Big Trail Energy aims to produce green fuels at an incredible scale, marking a significant departure from the region’s historical reliance on fossil fuels. The project is set to bring transformative change to Eldorado, a ranching community with deep-rooted local pride.