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Texas Coastal Wind Farms May Put Birds at Risk

HOUSTON, Texas, January 2, 2008 (ENS) – Two wind power projects under construction in Kenedy County, Texas will pose a threat to migratory and resident birds and bats, according to a scientific study released today by the Coastal Habitat Alliance. The two projects, both being built on private ranch land, will be the first wind farms in coastal south Texas.

This portion of the Texas coast is among the most important bird migration corridors in North America, linking Canada and the United States with Mexico and Central and South America, the alliance says.

Australian financial group Babcock & Brown and PPM Energy, a subsidiary of Iberdrola’s Scottish Power, are pursuing the construction of two separate wind energy generation facilities along the Laguna Madre region of the south Texas coast in Kenedy County.

The Texas Public Utility Commission in November 2007 approved plans for a $60 million transmission line project to be built by AEP Texas, a division of Ohio-based American Electric Power.

Both wind farms and the transmission line are going up on the Kenedy Ranch, the smaller neighbor of King Ranch, a member of the alliance.

The projects are supposed to be operational by late 2008 and will generate about 388 megawatts of electricity – enough to power about 90,000 homes. In total, the two projects would cover 60,000 acres and include more than 500 wind turbines, each about 400 feet tall, states the new report.

Conducted by EDM International, Inc. using methodologies developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, today’s report shows that in terms of potential harm to migratory birds the wind farm sites are almost as sensitive as a national wildlife refuge established for bird protection.

“The proposed Kenedy County Wind Projects, totaling 1,200 MW, are unprecedented along the Gulf Coast and the operation of these proposed projects could result in the largest and most significant avian mortality event in the history of wind energy,” says the EDM report.

“The associated negative repercussions to the expanding wind industry both in the U.S and the internationally could be significant as well,” the report says.


An olive sparrow on the King
Ranch (Photo © Steve Collins)

“This review clearly demonstrates that the Laguna Madre is a world-class bad site for wind energy generation,” said environmental lawyer and Coastal Habitat Alliance founder Jim Blackburn.

Laguna Madre, a large body of shallow water separating Padre Island from the South Texas mainland, is a complex ecological system that includes a hyper-saline lagoon, salt and freshwater wetlands, and surrounding sand dunes, coastal grasslands and oak forests.

The Coastal Habitat Alliance, Inc. was formed in June 2007 to protect the Texas Gulf Coast. The group of 11 organizations filed federal and state lawsuits in December 2007 seeking to halt the construction of the two wind farms.

The federal lawsuit alleges that state officials and developers are violating the federal Coastal Zone Management Act by building the farms without an environmental review or permit.

The alliance is requesting that the federal court block the proposed wind projects “until a thorough environmental review with genuine public input is performed.”

Because Texas receives federal funds to help protect the coastal region through the Coastal Zone Management Act, a thorough environmental review of the wind projects is required, the alliance argues.

The state lawsuit claims the Texas Public Utility Commission illegally denied the alliance an opportunity to intervene in the PUC’s hearings on transmission lines for the wind farms.

The Coastal Habitat Alliance urged the Public Utility Commission of Texas to require a public hearing for the permitting process for the new electric transmission line necessary to serve this project, but the Commission declined to do so.

“These projects should not be allowed to be constructed without public input and meaningful environmental analysis and review,” Blackburn said. “They could literally destroy some of the most important assets of the coastal environment.”

“The group is not opposed to wind power, but believes the review of the siting of wind energy projects along the Texas Gulf Coast is the key to ensuring that an irrevocable environmental tragedy is not caused in the name of saving the environment,” the alliance says.

The Kenedy Foundation, which oversees the Kenedy Ranch, has said that PPM and Babcock & Brown have spent two years studying migratory birds’ flight patterns and are convinced the environmental impact will be minimal.

But EDM reviewed the environmental reports prepared by PPM that claim there would be little threat to birds from the project and found “numerous flaws” in the studies. EDM found that the methods and approaches used are “too limited to address the broad front of bird migration along the Texas Gulf Coast.”

“Facility siting is key to a wind energy development,” said EDM project manager Lori Nielsen. “Although the PPM researchers attempted to use science-based approaches for Phase I of the Peñascal Project, the EDM Team identified problems and errors with many of the methods used and results reported. We have not seen any of the Babcock & Brown study methods or metrics to date.”

For the executive summary of the EDM Report, click here [coastalhabitatalliance.org].

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