Two wind farms proposed for the Texas Coast “could result in the most significant impacts to birds in the history of North American wind energy,” according to a consultant’s report released Wednesday.
The report was written by Colorado-based EDM International and contracted by the Coastal Habitat Alliance, a group of landowners and environmental organizations fighting the wind farms. The document warned of “mass mortality events” and concluded that the analysis of the property conducted by the wind energy companies was insufficient given the area’s status as one of the country’s largest migratory bird corridors.
“It is difficult for our team to imagine that siting facilities of this magnitude at these locations would avoid the type of possible mass mortality events,” said EDM project manager Lori Nielsen.
PPM Energy, which is owned by the Spanish company Iberdrola, and Australian-based Babcock & Brown Ltd. are developing the wind farms.
EDM’s analysis, which Nielsen described as a first step, was a review of potential bird impact studies provided by PPM Energy. PPM studies found very little impact on birds. EDM used procedures outlined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its analysis and came up with very different conclusions.
Babcock & Brown officials claim they have conducted an enormous amount of scientific study on their site, but did not provide the work to EDM.
Both companies rejected the findings of Wednesday’s report.
“We just don’t think that they have any merit to their studies. They haven’t even done any on-the-ground investigation,” said Babcock & Brown’s Beth O’Brien. “If we thought it was going to have a negative impact we would not be building the project.”
The combined plans call for erecting as many as 500 wind turbines, with blades from the massive towers reaching roughly 400 feet high.
Wind turbines are common in Texas, which leads the country in wind-power generation. But the issue of turbines killing birds has emerged recently as companies have turned their eyes from West Texas to the Texas Coast, which is known for some of the best bird habitat in the country.
Typically, wind farms have little impact on birds. But there are a few infamous exceptions around the world. A collection of farms in California’s Altamont Pass, for example, kills more than 1,000 raptors a year. This is an image the Coastal Habitat Alliance often conjures in its battle against the Kenedy County wind farms.
The battle has proven difficult because there are no state regulations for siting power generating facilities in Texas. Typically, state laws governing their emissions or other pollution act to regulate the construction of such facilities, but this isn’t applicable in the case of wind power facilities. And because the projects are on private land and don’t impact any federally protected wetlands, no federal regulations apply for construction even though many of the birds that could be harmed are federally protected.
The alliance was hit with a setback when the Public Utility Commission of Texas ruled in October that none of its members had standing to protest the transmission lines that would serve the project. But the group filed lawsuits in both state and federal courts last month.
By Anton Caputo
2 January 2008
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