Two proposed wind farms on Kenedy Ranch could pose “significant” risk to migrating birds, according to a preliminary environmental study comissioned by an environmental group.
The Coastal Habitat Alliance, a group of 11 organizations that opposes the wind farms, commissioned Colorado-based EDM International to perform the assessment. A preliminary draft that report was released Monday.
But the two companies who plan to build the wind farms say they have conducted their own studies and found the electric-generating turbines pose little risk to birds.
After visiting the wind-farm sites, the environmental consultants concluded that the wind projects would be too close to active bird migration pathways and that bird fatalities could result. The consultants are working on a more extensive study, which likely will be completed in about 6 weeks, said Elyse Yates, a spokeswoman for Coastal Habitat Alliance, which paid the consultants to conduct the assessment.
“(The environmental consultants have) done a lot of work with wind companies and have extensive siting experience,” Yates said. “They are experts in this area.”
Members of the alliance include King Ranch, the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, Frontera Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy, among others.
PPM Energy, a subsidiary of Spain-based Iberdrola, and Australia-based Babcock & Brown are planning to build the wind projects on Kenedy Ranch. The projects should be operational by late 2008, company representatives have said. When complete, about 250 turbines will be located on the ranch, producing about 388 megawatts of electricity – enough to power about 90,000 homes.
Placing wind turbines on a remote portion of Kenedy Ranch could have serious impacts on migratory birds, the alliance-commissioned assessment says.
One concern, according to the consultants, is the number of birds who use the ranch as a “fallout” habitat, meaning migrating birds tend to “fall out” of the sky during long journeys to rest along marshes and wetlands on the Gulf Coast. A portion of the wind-farm site is covered by wetlands.
The report recommends that the companies follow a U.S. Fish and Wildlife service protocol when deciding what sites are best for wind projects. The companies also should undertake their own assessments, determining the risk to birds.
PPM Energy has conducted its own studies and “stands behind” its project, spokeswoman Jan Johnson said Monday.
“We have done extensive avian studies since August 2004,” Johnson said. “We’ve found in our studies that the site is a good one for wind power and for economic development.”
Johnson said the company has provided copies of its studies to the Sierra Club, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several other environmental organizations.
Babcock & Brown representatives say the company also has conducted migratory bird assessments, and believe the birds fly west of the site and wouldn’t be affected.
“We’ve conducted extensive studies over the past three years by onsite ornithologists and biologists using state-of-the-art radar technology to study local avian species, including habitat and migratory patterns,” said Matt Dallas, spokesman for Babcock & Brown. “These in-depth, on-the-ground studies found there were no endangered species in the area of the project and that there would be no material impact on any avian species or their habitats.”
Coastal Habitat Alliance members said they haven’t seen the companies’ studies, and that they want the results to be made public.
“We hope that by bringing in some recognized experts, we can encourage them to release their own studies, or conduct new ones,” Yates said.
The alliance is releasing this report in time for a Public Utility Commision of Texas hearing Wednesday, at which AEP Texas is requesting the go-ahead to construct a transmission line connecting to the wind farms. The commission has agreed to consider the alliance’s request for intervenor status in the line’s construction.
By Melissa McEver
16 October 2007
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