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Low emissions, but critics claim other environmental concerns  

Install some wind turbines, generate energy with almost no emissions and everyone’s happy. It’s easier said than done.

Proposed wind farms near Hebronville, TexasTwo wind farms, part of a $2 billion project, have been proposed near Hebbronville, just east of Laredo. Corpus Christi-based American Shoreline and its partner, San Diego, Calif.-based Eviva Spinnaker, plan to develop the 800-megawatt wind project.

It calls for 400 turbines about 350 feet tall spread out over 35,000 acres in Jim Hogg, Webb and Zapata counties. The electricity that would be generated from the two wind farms would power about 220,000 homes.

The project recently was announced and has not received vocal opposition. But if vocal opposition toward two Kenedy County wind projects is any indication, there soon will be. Kenedy County is about 100 miles south of Corpus Christi.

The companies developing in the county have begun pouring foundations for turbines and turbine parts are expected in the next month or so.

Environmental studies, particularly on birds, also have been conducted for more than three years, leading officials to declare that the farms will have a minimal impact to the area’s ecology.

Still, there are environmentalists and interest groups who say not enough effort has been made to study the long-term impact to the land, the waters that flow under the sites, and the area’s wildlife.

Among opponents of the Kenedy County projects are the American Bird Conservancy, the Coastal Bend Audubon Society, the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation and King Ranch.

They want the projects to halt until more studies are conducted and those results are shared with the public. Although the companies have released some of their studies, not all have been made available. Some of it is proprietary and some is not yet available, officials have said.

Available data is flawed, each side says. Finding a neutral, third party on the issue is impossible, said Eric Rosenbloom, president of National Wind Watch, Inc., a nonprofit organization that promotes awareness of the negative impacts of industrial wind energy development.

There are some on each side who will concede some aspects of the other side’s arguments, but they remain well apart,” Rosenbloom said. “Those who note that lack of evidence, or even the very low potential benefit, are dismissed as Luddites or NIMBYs. Thus, ‘middle ground’ is already based on one side’s story.”

People opposed to progress and technology are referred to as Luddites. NIMBY is an acronym for Not in My Back Yard.

The following are the viewpoints of each side of the Kenedy County wind farm controversy.

Tax Breaks

Critics: Federal and county tax incentives help pay for much of the costs of a wind farm project. Jack Hunt, CEO of King Ranch, estimated that about $360 million in subsidies would help fund PPM’s $440 million project. The company would spend less than half of the cost, the rest from taxpayers, Hunt added. King Ranch is a member of the projects’ most vocal critic, the Coastal Habitat Alliance, a 10-member non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the Gulf Coast.

PPM: There is no tax abatement agreement between PPM Energy and Kenedy County. The federal government grants a 10-year tax credit per megawatt hour produced. PPM will pay for all of the costs of the project but will be able to realize tax advantages to the project during the first decade of operations. A recent report from the federal Government Accountability Office concluded that fossil-fuel and nuclear generation receive the lion’s share of federal tax incentives, research and development funding and other forms of support while wind power receives relatively little.

B&B: The wind farm project has not received a tax abatement from Kenedy County. In addition, the wind farm will not receive any state subsidies. The project will receive the federal production tax credit, a credit for the power that is actually produced by a renewable energy project. The credit is applicable to all wind farms in the country. This tax credit is only applicable once the project is producing power. All forms of energy receive subsidies, particularly the oil and gas industry.

Birds

Avian studies

Critics: Preliminary results of a recent radar study conducted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and a study by the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville shows more than 2 million birds and/or bats fly within a kilometer of the radar with about 54 percent flying at or above 500 feet. Not enough in-depth studies into bird patterns have been conducted to show how these turbines will affect birds and bats.

PPM: The company has conducted environmental and avian studies for about three years, more than at its other projects, with the help and guidance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Kenedy County and several environmental non-government organizations. The radar study’s methodology has been used as a risk assessment tool by the U.S. Air Force for almost a decade. The study doesn’t reject data so it is biased toward protection of the resource. PPM’s studies show that bird mortality will not be significant. The studies prompted the company to shift turbines from areas farther northeast that provide more wind but potentially higher impacts to birds.

B&B: The company has voluntarily completed extensive environmental and avian studies over the past four years. The comprehensive and in-depth avian studies, conducted with on-the-ground ornithologists and state-of-the-art radar technology, are more comprehensive than any studies ever completed for a wind farm project in the United States.

Full disclosure

Critics: Of the studies conducted, most of the information has not been released to the public or offered for peer review, says Jim Blackburn, environmental lawyer and founder of the Alliance.

PPM: Says it has released all studies as they have become available to state and federal wildlife agencies and key non-government organizations.

B&B: Says it’s in direct communication with the federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, about all aspects of this wind farm. ‘Due to the extreme public relations attack by the King Ranch, we have chosen not to publicly release our data.’

Fallout

Critics: If there’s a fallout or anomaly in the flight/migration pattern of birds, the company won’t be able to or will not shut down the turbines. Partial or full turbine shutdown is not a proven method of dealing with such anomalies. The shutdowns won’t be feasible for daily migrations as it might affect the power going to the state electric grid, said Lori Nielsen with EDM International, a Colorado-based consulting firm hired by the Alliance. Bird mortality likely will be high, Nielsen added.

PPM: In cases of abnormal weather conditions, including low visibility or winds out of a northerly direction, some birds continue ahead against the wind. Of those that choose to fly west and land, the weaker ones are expected to land on Padre Island. The ones that continue often land in the oak mottes. The authors of the PPM report stated that they knew of no mass bird kill event at any modern wind farm in North America. Wind turbines have no guy wires.

B&B: Babcock & Brown has advanced technology that will shut down its turbines nearly instantaneously during low-visibility conditions that occur during migration or high bird movement periods.

Water/Land

Fresh water

Critics: The wind farms will prevent fresh water from reaching the Laguna Madre, harming it and its ecosystem. John Jacob, a soil and wetland scientist working with the Alliance, says roads, turbines and turbine foundations might prevent the southeasterly flow of rain and surge water from the wetlands to the Laguna Madre and the Gulf of Mexico.

PPM: The company’s geotechnical studies show no basis for this claim.

B&B: Says the accusation is outlandish and unfounded by any science. Extensive studies, taking 157 core samples and logs from every turbine location, show there will be no effect on water flowing to the Laguna Madre. Sand is hard to compact and the Beaumont Shell, found beneath the wind farm projects, is permeable and would not impede the flow of water, said Paul Strong, president of American Shoreline, the company that first announced the Peñascal Wind Farm project.

Roads

Critics: Roads cut through wetlands that cause irreparable damage to wildlife and/or wildlife.

PPM: Says it has avoided all wetlands and that Army Corps of Engineers signed off.

B&B: All roads for the wind farm have already been created, and all wetland areas were avoided during this process. No road was cut through a wetland area.

Turbines

Critics: Turbine foundations destroy much of lush habitat for local wildlife.

PPM: The project will affect only approximately 200 acres of grassland out of about 191,000 in the area leased from the Kenedy Trust.

B&B: The overall affected surface area of the wind farm is only 250 acres and does not affect any sensitive habitat. This leaves the remaining area of approximately 9,500 acres untouched.

Removal of turbines

Critics: When the company decides to leave the county, removal of turbines will leave holes in the ground and an unusable acreage.

PPM: Upon termination of the lease, PPM is required to remove foundations, fill holes, replace topsoil and reseed with native grasses.

B&B: Babcock & Brown has a long-term strategy to develop and own wind farms across the country and expects a turbine life of about 40 years. The company has a requirement to post a bond that guarantees total restoration of the area in the event that the wind farm’s use is discontinued. This restoration includes removing all turbines, foundations and equipment, and restoring the land to original condition.

Other impact

Aesthetics

Critics: The turbines are big enough to see from the Laguna Madre and neighboring ranches and will interfere with the natural beauty of the area.

PPM: From any publicly accessible locations, the turbines will not dominate the views. They won’t be visible from any neighboring private land.

B&B: The closest turbine to the Laguna Madre is 5 miles away. Most will be 10 miles from the Laguna Madre. At these distances the turbines will be barely visible. Many people see turbines as beautiful and represent a better future.

Noise

Critics: Turbines will be heard from miles away.

PPM: There will be no perceptible sound in any publicly accessible area such as the Intracoastal Waterway.

B&B: Modern wind turbines are designed to be quiet. There will be no sound that can be heard from any of the surrounding public lands. An operating modern wind turbine at a distance of 750 to 1,000 feet away makes no more sound than a kitchen refrigerator. Frequently, the sound of the wind masks any sound from the turbines. No one on public land will be able to hear these turbines.

Permanent jobs

Critics: The farms will not create many permanent jobs.

PPM: Construction of the Peñascal Wind Project would create up to 200 construction jobs and more than 10 permanent jobs.

B&B: The project is expected to create 15-20 permanent, well-paying jobs in a county of about 400 people.

Taxes

Critics: The companies will not pay Kenedy County enough taxes.

PPM: The project will pay millions of dollars in taxes that would not exist unless the wind farm is built.

B&B: Kenedy County will assess millions of dollars in future property tax assessments on the wind farm.

Operations control

Critics: The farms only can be controlled from the site, not its headquarters where last-minute decisions about operations and shut-down occur.

PPM: Sites throughout the country can be controlled both on-site and in PPM’s Portland off-site operations office.

B&B: The turbines can be controlled both on-site and remotely. All turbines can be controlled by project managers who will be on-site 24 hours a day to operate and maintain the wind farm. Babcock & Brown also has a state-of-the-art national wind energy operations center in Dallas, which provides for additional around-the-clock monitoring and turbine control of all its wind farms. Additionally, its radar alarm systems for monitoring avian activity has automatic alarm and trigger mechanisms that can shut the turbines nearly instantly. It also sends alarms to the on-site managers, as well as to a control center in Dallas.

By Fanny S. Chirinos

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Texas Wind

Top state with most wind power installed in 2007: 4,446 megawatts
Top state with most new capacity added in 2007: 1,618 megawatts
Four of the five largest wind projects operating in the U.S. are in Texas

Gulf Wind Farm

Developer: Babcock and Brown
Project cost: $700 million
Began studies: 2004
Number of turbines: 118
283.2 megawatts of maximum annual output, enough to power 72,000 homes
On 300 surface acres of the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation

Peñascal Wind Farm

Developer: PPM Energy
Project cost: $440
Began studies: 2004
Number of turbines: 84
201.6 megawatts of maximum annual output, enough to power about 40,000 homes
On 200 surface acres of the John G. Kenedy Jr. Charitable Trust

Source:  Babcock and Brown; PPM Energy; American Wind Energy Association

Compiled by Fanny S. Chirinos

886-3759 or chirinosf@caller.com

caller.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.


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