Texas public utility regulators have approved plans for a $60 million transmission-line project in South Texas, a victory for two proposed wind farms that have placed two of the nation’s biggest ranches at odds.
The state’s Public Utility Commission on Tuesday OK’d the application of AEP Texas, a division of Ohio-based American Electric Power, to build a 21-mile transmission line and switching stations that would interconnect the two wind farms in Kenedy County, Texas.
AEP filed the application in June, according to the PUC’s approval notice, to build the line on the sprawling Kenedy Ranch, which has given its go-ahead.
But the prospect of hundreds of turbines and their massive blades – structures that can stand 400 feet tall – doesn’t sit well with Kenedy’s even-larger neighbor, the storied King Ranch.
After a century and a half as cordial neighbors, the two ranches have vastly different views of wind-generated power. Together, they cover nearly 1.3 million acres in sparsely populated South Texas.
The King Ranch, with 825,000 acres near the Texas Gulf Coast, says the turbines will interfere with migratory birds’ flight patterns, threaten other wildlife and create an eyesore.
King Ranch is part of a coalition of 12 conservation and other organizations that oppose the transmission line and plan to sue the PUC for not allowing it to intervene in the case.
Elyse Yates, spokeswoman for the Coastal Habitat Alliance, said the alliance has research that shows the potential impact of the line on migratory birds, bats, butterflies and other species.
The PUC’s approval says an evaluation of the property by the environmental consulting firm PBS&J revealed the line is not expected to adversely affect any threatened or endangered plant or animal species. It also notes the construction will cause “only short-term impacts to soil, water and ecological resources.”
Managers of a charitable trust and a foundation that oversee the Kenedy Ranch have said the companies leasing their land for the wind farms have spent two years studying migratory birds’ flight patterns and are convinced the environmental impact will be minimal.
AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said the company hopes to start work on the line as soon as possible and complete it by next September. She said the company eventually will recoup the roughly $60 million price tag via a wire charge billed to electric customers.
The approval notice says AEP will consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before construction begins to ensure compliance with wetland regulations and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on permit requirements related to the possible effect on endangered and threatened species.
Wind farms generate electricity by using wind to turn giant blades that rotate on turbines, an alternative to power created by utilities using coal, natural gas and other sources.
Representatives of the two companies developing the farms – Babcock & Brown Ltd., an Australian outfit, and PPM Energy of Portland, Ore. – were not available Tuesday to comment on progress of the projects. They’ve said they hope to have the turbines spinning and producing power sometime next year. The initial combined investment for the two farms is expected to top $1 billion.
By John Porretto
AP Business Writer
28 November 2007
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