In a bid to block two large wind energy projects on the South Texas coast, an alliance of environmental groups and landowners is taking aim at the high-voltage transmission line required for the project.
The wind farms represent a $1 billion investment in a remote corner of the Kenedy Ranch. They are not subject to state oversight, but the 21-mile power line needed to connect them to the state’s electrical grid on U.S. 77 requires Public Utility Commission approval.
In recent filings with the PUC, the newly formed Coastal Habitat Alliance is asking the agency to reject the new line, saying it will cause serious environmental and economic harm.
“The transmission line is the key element. The wind farms would not come into existence if not for the transmission line,” said Jim Blackburn, who represents the alliance.
The group believes both the transmission line and the 400-foot-tall wind turbines to be constructed near a major migratory bird flyway could harm birds and other wildlife.
“We’re concerned with both the direct impacts of the transmission line and the secondary impacts, which would be the wind farms,” Blackburn said.
Numerous threatened species, including the black-spotted newt, Mexican tree frog, ocelot, indigo snake and Texas tortoise, live on the Kenedy Ranch’s coastal flatlands.
The alliance is seeking to force the PUC to hold public hearings on the application to build the transmission line, which would delay the process.
But it is unclear if the alliance, whose six members include the King Ranch, the American Bird Conservatory and the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, will have much to say on the issue.
Both the PUC staff and the permit applicant, American Electric Power, argue that the alliance has no legitimate standing and are fighting its request to become an intervener in the PUC case.
“Coastal Habitat Alliance’s motion to intervene is a thinly veiled attempt to use a transmission line proceeding to impose siting restrictions on wind generation development,” a lawyer for American Electric Power wrote.
Both the PUC staff and the electric company also note none of the alliance members own land where the wind project and transmission line would be constructed, and thus can’t demonstrate a “justiciable interest” in the matter.
PUC spokesman Terry Hadley said he expects a ruling before Sept. 10 on the alliance’s application to intervene.
“If there is no public hearing, the commission could decide this within a few months,” Hadley said.
If the judge rejects the request, the alliance could appeal to the full three-person PUC, he said.
The two nonprofit entities that control the 400,000-acre Kenedy Ranch both favor the wind energy project, which is slated for construction early next year.
PPM Energy, now owned by the Spanish giant Iberdrola, is planning an initial 84-turbine phase. Separately, Babcock & Brown Ltd., an Australian company, is planning to erect 157 turbines on adjacent land.
If approved, the projects will generate enough energy to power 180,000 Texas homes within two years.
By John MacCormack
29 August 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding