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Environmentalists hope to stop wind farm  

The Coastal Habitat Alliance has taken its fight against two wind farms to court.

The alliance, a group of 11 organizations including the King Ranch and Frontera Audubon Society, filed federal and state lawsuits Tuesday hoping to halt the construction of two wind farms in Kenedy County, or at least gain input in the projects. The group says the wind farms will affect environmentally sensitive wetlands and possibly lead to bird kills.

The federal lawsuit alleges that state officials and developers are violating the federal Coastal Zone Management Act by building the farms without an environmental review or permit.

The organization also filed another lawsuit in a Texas court, objecting to the Public Utility Commission of Texas’ recent refusal to grant the alliance “intervenor” status in the projects. The commission has granted permission for the construction of an electric-transmission line that will connect to the wind farms.

“In both (lawsuits), we’re asking to be heard at the Public Utility Commission,” said Elyse Yates, a spokeswoman for the alliance.

Defendants in the federal lawsuit are General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, wind developers PPM Energy and Babcock & Brown and the Public Utility Commission’s three commissioners.

Texas adopted a coastal management plan, in compliance with federal law, in the 1990s, and that plan called for environmental reviews for any electricity generating plants, the federal lawsuit says. When the state repealed a law requiring all electric plants to have permits, officials didn’t include that change in updates to the coastal management plan, the suit says.

Therefore, electricity generating projects built on the coast without a permit remain in violation of federal law and the state’s own plan, according to the document.

“A key part of the act is you can’t develop energy generation without oversight,” Yates said.

In an October letter to Jim Blackburn, an Austin attorney and founder of the Coastal Habitat Alliance, Patterson said he believed Texas’ coastal management plan was still in compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Act.

The Texas General Land Office will respond to the alliance’s petition “in a timely manner,” said office spokesman Jim Suydam in a statement.

Through the state suit, the alliance hopes to gain intervenor status in the project and request that environmental studies be conducted, Yates said.

A spokesman from Babcock & Brown, one of the two companies developing wind farms on Kenedy Ranch, said the lawsuit was “completely without merit.” The farms would not pose harm to coastal wetlands or migrating birds, he said.

“Before we began construction on this project, we voluntarily completed three years of comprehensive wildlife studies,” said spokesman Matt Dallas. The company concluded in these studies that endangered species and migrating birds wouldn’t be harmed, he said.

The Public Utility Commission, another defendant in the lawsuits, denied the alliance “intervenor” status because the group didn’t qualify, said commission spokesman Terry Hadley. Hadley said he couldn’t comment further on the lawsuit because he hadn’t reviewed it yet.

The two proposed wind farms will cover about 20,000 acres of Kenedy Ranch near Sarita and will consist of about 250 turbines. The projects are set to be operational by late 2008 and will generate about 388 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 90,000 homes.

By Melissa McEver

The Brownsville Herald

4 December 2007

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

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