A nine-member environmental group, which includes the politically powerful Armstrong and King ranches, filed suit Tuesday demanding it be allowed to intervene in and possibly stop construction of two giant wind farms in Kenedy County.
The Coastal Habitat Alliance filed suits in state and federal court, a week after the Public Utility Commission of Texas approved AEP Texas’ transmission line that would connect the two wind farm sites to the state’s power grid. The federal suit challenges the state’s decision to allow the developments to be built without required environmental review and public comment. The federal lawsuit seeks possible injunction against Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, the commission and the developers of the wind farms, Oregon-based PPM Energy and Australia-based Babcock and Brown Ltd. The Armstrong and King ranches are near the two proposed wind farm sites.
Terry Hadley, a spokesman with the utility commission, said the commission has received public comment on the environmental and economic impact of the projects. The commission’s Web site indicates no fewer than 10 comments from the public have been received on the matter.
John Calaway, chief development officer for Babcock & Brown Ltd., said the lawsuits would have no effect on construction, which already has started. The Australian outfit plans to spend as much as $800 million to build 157 turbines on a lease secured from a foundation that helps oversee the Kenedy Ranch.
The other project, the $440 million Peñascal Wind Farm by PPM Energy, a subsidiary of Britain’s Scottish Energy, would consist of 267 turbines the height of the Statue of Liberty, placed in rows a mile apart throughout about 15,000 acres of the Peñascal Land Grant, private property owned by the John G. Kenedy Jr. Charitable Trust in Kenedy County. The farm would be about 12 miles south of Baffin Bay and would produce enough energy for 100,000 homes.
Those Kenedy Ranch overseers have said Babcock & Brown and PPM have spent two years studying migratory birds’ flight patterns and are convinced the environmental impact will be minimal.
Calaway said he hopes to have 118 turbines running next year.
A PPM Energy representative was not available to comment. The land office declined to comment.
In Texas, developers need neither state nor federal approval to erect wind turbines on private land.
But the alliance claims that because Texas receives federal funds to help protect the coastal region through the Coastal Zone Management Act, a thorough environmental review of the wind projects is required.
The alliance filed a motion with the commission to intervene in AEP Texas’ proceedings on Aug. 9. The commission denied the motion on Aug. 16 because the group’s primary concern was not the transmission line but the construction of the wind farms.
“The PUC doesn’t have regulatory authority over generation,” Hadley said. “The commission determined (the group) had no standing because it was a generation issue.”
Catherine Webking, an attorney for Coastal Habitat Alliance, said the group has three bases on which it has standing in the case:
n It’s an interested party under traditional definitions for interested parties.
n The statute on transmission lines gives interested parties the right to intervene.
n The Coastal Zone Management Act requires public participation under permitting proceedings, including the right to cross-examine and the right to information presented during those proceedings.
The Land Office does not comment on pending litigation, said spokesman Jim Suydam. In a letter dated Oct. 8 to James Blackburn, an environmental attorney and a founder of the alliance, Patterson wrote that he believed the Coastal Zone Management Act was being adhered to by the state’s Coastal Management Program. The letter was in response to Blackburn’s Sept. 6 letter questioning the act’s adherence in this case.
Construction of the transmission line will cause only short-term ecological impacts and is not expected to adversely affect any threatened or endangered plants or animals, according to the commission’s notice of approval for the line.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
By Fanny S. Chirinos
5 December 2007
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding