Proponents of wind energy in Texas generally feel that use of large turbines being built around the state are both healthy for the environment and make good business sense.
But a report mandated by the U.S. Congress and released Thursday by the National Research Council says that government guidance to help communities and developers evaluate and plan for proposed wind energy projects is lacking.
Over the past year, Gillespie County has reportedly been under study as a possible location for a wind farm in an area north of Fredericksburg just south of the Llano County line.
Landowners have been contacted by representatives of an international company known as AES Wind Generation, and testing is reportedly underway to determine if the wind in that part of the county is sufficient for a wind farm to be built here.
According to the NRC report, there has been rapid growth over the past 25 years in the construction of wind-powered electricity generating facilities around the U.S.
Texas leads the way with 2,768 megawatts produced within the total installed U.S. wind-energy capacity of 11,603 MW, while California is close behind at 2,361 MW.
Wind power capacity in Texas grew by 38 percent during 2006, largely because of new turbines in West Texas.
Meanwhile, as the nation considers options for future energy development, environmental questions have emerged as important considerations, the NRC report states.
Proponents point out that wind-energy facilities emit no atmospheric pollutants and are driven by a renewable source, addressing multiple environmental concerns such as air quality and climate change.
However, the NRC report also points out that the expansion of such facilities can carry adverse environmental impacts.
Wind energy provided about one percent of U.S. electricity in 2006. An often-mentioned advantage of using wind energy facilities is the reduction of thermal and atmospheric pollution associated with fossil fuel-based energy facilities. According to current projections for use of wind energy in 2020, use of the technology could reduce the energy sector’s emissions of carbon dioxide by about 4.5 percent in 2020.
However, more steps need to be taken, the NRC states, to assess potentially negative impacts – including threats to wildlife and sightlines – and to evaluate tradeoffs between benefits and possible adverse environmental impacts.
The NRC had been asked by Congress to review the positive and negative environmental impacts of wind energy development, including effects on landscapes, views, wildlife, habitats, air pollution and greenhouse gases.
Among the wind energy projects that exist in 36 states, California has had them since the early 1980s. Most wind turbines there are approved through local zoning boards and state authorities.
But the NRC report notes that most state governments like Texas, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency do not have extensive experience with anticipating, reviewing and assessing their impacts.
“The development of a more extensive knowledge base is needed so state and federal agencies can evaluate these impacts in order to better carry out their mandate to protect species and to weigh tradeoffs between the technology’s environmental benefits and impacts,” said the NRC report by the Committee on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects chaired by Paul G. Risser.
The NRC report urges federal and state agencies to take the environmental impacts of wind energy more seriously as part of planning, locating and regulating these facilities.
This is because some bird and bat collisions with spinning blades and towers – especially along migration corridors – may begin to threaten local populations of some species if wind facilities rapidly expand over the next 20 years.
In Texas, State Rep. Robert Puente of San Antonio has sponsored a bill that would require the state environmental impacts of wind turbines and determine whether they spoil views and/or create noise that interferes with property rights of nearby landowners.
The bill, supported by the King Ranch which is reportedly upset about a proposed costal wind project in Kenedy County that reportedly would place 267 turbines along the Gulf’s Laguna Madre, has languished in the House subcommittee, according to an article in the May 4 issue of the Austin American-Statesman.
9 May 2007
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