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Groups differ on meaning of wind farm impact study

A Houston-based environmental group with local ties has released an environmental impact study that it says might stop the construction of two proposed Kenedy County wind farms.

The wind farm companies dismissed the findings, saying their studies show the impact would be minimal.

The Coastal Habitat Alliance is a non-profit organization that counts King Ranch among its 10 members. King Ranch has been vocal in its opposition to the two wind farm projects since they were proposed several years ago.

The group commissioned EDM International, Inc., a wind power advocate, to conduct an independent review of the projects’ potential impact.

EDM assessed the proposed sites and found “the operation of the projects could result in the largest and most significant avian mortality event in the history of wind energy. The associated negative repercussions to the expanding wind industry both in the U.S. and internationally could be significant, as well,” according to its report.

The study will be used in ongoing litigation seeking to prevent the construction of the wind farms, says alliance spokeswoman Elyse Yates. Officials for both companies say they have conducted studies for years and findings show there would be minimal impact to the environment and birds.

Australia-based Babcock and Brown plans to spend as much as $800 million to build 157 turbines on property owned by the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation. The other project, the $440 million PeƱascal Wind Farm by PPM Energy, a subsidiary of Britain’s Scottish Energy, would consist of 267 turbines on private property owned by the John G. Kenedy Jr. Charitable Trust in Kenedy County.

Jan Johnson, PPM’s spokeswoman, said studies have been conducted since 2004 in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and results have been made public.

John Calaway, Babcock and Brown’s chief development officer for wind energy, said three years of bird migration studies show birds are flying significantly above where the rotors would be.

“(The alliance) has constantly skewed the truth,” said Calaway, adding the company doesn’t plan to release its impact studies. “Handing out our reports is kind of like handing a gun to a sniper that’s going to shoot you with it.”

The EDM study further says constructing the wind farms on the sites would do as much harm as if they were built on wildlife refuges. The alliance filed suit against the Texas Public Utility Commission in state court and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and the wind farm companies in federal court last month.

The former case hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing and parties for the latter are working to set schedules for a briefing and a hearing, Yates said.

By Fanny S. Chirinos


5 January 2008