[ exact phrase in "" • results by date ]

[ Google-powered • results by relevance ]


News Home

Subscribe to RSS feed

Add NWW headlines to your site (click here)

Sign up for daily updates

Keep Wind Watch online and independent!

Donate $10

Donate $5

Selected Documents

All Documents

Research Links


Press Releases


Publications & Products

Photos & Graphics


Allied Groups

Wind farm a deadly blow to birds? Environmentalists question Kenedy Ranch location  

The state’s first coastal wind turbine industrial park is set for construction later this year in South Texas and is likely to generate a storm of controversy when the impact on migrating birds becomes clear.

The site is Kenedy Ranch property between Corpus Christi and Raymondville. The initial project backed by Spanish utility giant Iberdrola calls for the installation of 87 huge wind turbines with blades reaching some 400 feet skyward. Australian investment firm Babcock and Brown is also said to be planning to build 157 turbines in the coastal county.

“It is a project that really has no next step. We are all set up and waiting for turbine delivery. We could begin construction as early as the fourth quarter 2007,” said Jan Johnson, Communication Director for PPM Energy of Oregon, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola and represents their interests in the United States.

“Is the race to be the first company to construct a wind farm along the Texas coast a race to be the next Altamont, or worse?” questioned David Newstead, president of Coastal Bend Audubon. “The lower Texas coast is the most important migratory corridor in the continent where millions of birds and bats pass through twice yearly.”

Texas leads the nation in wind power with 2,000 plus turbines cranking out more than 2,768 megawatts, which is approximately 3 percent of the power produced in the state, according to the American Wind Energy Association, an industry trade association.

However, Texas has little or no regulation regarding the proper placement of wind farms or for monitoring the facilities’ operations. The wind industry in Texas is essentially self-regulating.

“Texas leads the nation when it comes to turning an environmental blind eye to issues surrounding wind power,” said Dr. Merlin Tuttle, president of Bat Conservation International in Austin.

The need for renewable, clean energy is widely endorsed, but there is often a tragic hidden cost to the development of wind farms in areas that are frequented by birds and bats such as Navarre and Tarifa in Spain, and the Smola Archipelago off the coast of Norway where the white-tailed eagle population was decimated by a poorly sited wind farm. One of the United States’ worst examples of wind farm placement is the infamous Altamont Pass east of San Francisco, Calif., where half the farm was temporarily shut down following legal threats from concerned citizens. A 2004 report by the California Energy Commission found that 880 to 1,300 raptors were killed at Altamont every year, including red-tailed hawks and golden eagles.

Two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi, converge along the coastal plains of southernmost Texas. “I think it is the worst place in the United States to build wind towers,” stated Victor Emanuel of Austin, president of Victor Emanuel Tours, the world’s largest company specializing in birding tours. Millions of birds migrate through in the spring and fall, and the Rio Grande Valley, which boasts 513 species of birds, is the top birding destination in the United States.

Ecotourism annually attracts some 125,000 visitors to the area boosting the local economy by upwards of $125 million.

“The majority of neotropical migrants east of the Rockies first make landfall on the coast of Texas,” said Dr. Andrew Kasner, director of Bird Conservation Audubon Texas. In other words, millions of birds cross or travel along the Texas coast every spring and fall. If severe impacts to these birds occurred in Texas, there could be ramifications for populations on a continental scale. The question is do we want to risk this uncertainty in an area with such sensitivity?

“I don’t see anybody who wouldn’t agree that a wind power facility in the middle of America’s largest migratory flyway isn’t a major hazard,” said Dr. Tuttle.

Despite the potential loss of native and migratory birds and bats along coastal wind farm sites and massive fragmentation of habitat, neither the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nor the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department require environmental impact studies or permitting for wind farm construction. “The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has no regulatory authority over either wind farms or where they are placed,” said Robert Cook, director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

A voluntary environmental assessment has been conducted by the company set to erect turbines along the coastal migratory corridor in Kenedy County. The study was reviewed by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists. Neither agency has filed an objection to site construction.

“Obviously, if we go to losing birds there we will be involved. I’ll tell you that right up front. There’s no question about that,” Cook said.
Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, testified before the House Natural Resources Committee on May 1 recommending a change in law allowing his agency more enforcement latitude. “We need early involvement, pre-construction, to talk about what the impacts might be,” Hall said. “Right now … we can’t until it is already happening.”

“The companies consistently do their studies and tell us there won’t be any problems, but at every site that has had a serious problem we were told there wouldn’t be any,” said Dr. Tuttle.

The Texas Wind and Wildlife Alliance is a group of concerned citizens attempting to develop guidelines for site selection and monitoring the wind farm industry. “Right now there are no guidelines. The wind industry voluntarily began to work with conservation groups in 2005,” said Donna Hoffman, Communications Coordinator with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We hope to come out with guidelines for this that could be a model for other states as well,” Hoffman added. “Of course the wildlife and habitat community would prefer that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also enforce the guidelines.”

House Bill 2794, sponsored by Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio, would have required the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish a permit process, but the bill failed.

Dr. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy based in The Plains, Va., testified several days ago in Washington D.C. before the same House committee as Director Hall. Dr. Fry is a member of the National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) comprised of representatives from the utility, wind industry, environmental and government sectors. “There has been much discussion and almost no real action on the part of the wind industry to resolve bird collision issues,” Fry testified.

According to the NWCC, wind turbines in the United States kill between 30,000 to 60,000 birds a year, including golden eagles and more than 50 species of songbirds. “At the current mortality rate and growth rate of the wind industry, by 2030 a projected 900,000 to 1.8 million birds would be killed per year by wind turbines, unless protective measures are implemented.” However, this figure may well be grossly underestimated.

“The primary thing that concerns me in Texas is that companies routinely tell us that they have more than 1,400 turbines in Texas, and they have never assessed any mortality yet,” said Dr. Tuttle. “So why would we be worried about the future? And yet these companies consistently refuse to allow credible scientists access to the facilities to check and determine if there is a threat or not. If they really believed there wasn’t a threat, they would open up with open arms. Of course when a blade traveling at nearly 200 miles per hour hits a painted bunting there isn’t a whole lot left.”

The initial 87 turbine installation set for Kenedy Ranch property, likely to be operational sometime next year, is the first phase of what General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson envisions as hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wind turbines along coastal Texas private property and state-owned offshore areas. Landowners are currently receiving approximately $12,000 per turbine annually. Texas owns offshore waters up to 10.36 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, and the General Land Office, which controls the state’s submerged lands, stands to reap substantial funds from two proposed offshore wind farms, the proceeds of which funnel into the states Permanent School Fund.

A year ago Patterson announced a proposal to build the biggest offshore wind farm in the nation after leasing 39,000 acres of submerged lands in the Gulf of Mexico just off the coast of Padre Island and south of Baffin Bay. This is the state’s second agreement for an offshore farm, the first being offshore from Galveston. Touting what he called a “wind rush,” Patterson stated, “When completed, this will be the biggest offshore wind farm in U.S. history. Like I said in 2003, the great Texas wind rush is on.”

But exactly where is Texas rushing with no effective regulatory structure at the federal, state or local level?

Jack Hunt, CEO of the King Ranch and neighbor to the Kenedy Ranch, has been a consistent opponent of coastal wind farms. “We think from a landowner’s standpoint that this is an inappropriate use of lands in that area,” Hunt said. “Our concern is a general concern about the cumulative impact on the coast. What we are talking about here is a massive installation of wind machines along the coast which would literally devastate the coast not only in the terms of wildlife and migratory birds but in terms of ‘viewshed’ and everything else that is important to people along the coast.” Viewshed refers to the fact that these enormous turbines towering more than 400 feet, or roughly three times the height of a typical water tower, can ruin the vistas of neighboring landowners and coastal visitors.

“Wind energy has the potential to help offset our consumption of non-renewable and green house gas-emitting sources of energy such as coal,” said Newstead. “However, wind projects have the potential to cause significant problems for wildlife. Until meaningful regulations are in place and followed, consumers cannot distinguish between truly ‘green,’ and merely ‘green-washed.'”

By Richard Moore
VMS Outdoors Writer


6 May 2007

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

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding
Donate $5 PayPal Donate


News Watch Home

Get the Facts Follow Wind Watch on Twitter

Wind Watch on Facebook


© National Wind Watch, Inc.
Use of copyrighted material adheres to Fair Use.
"Wind Watch" is a registered trademark.