The Coastal Habitat Alliance is a non-profit coalition of local and regional stakeholder groups that have come together to defend the sensitive Texas coast. One of the biggest threats to this unique area is from two proposed industrial wind power generating facilities in Kenedy County.
During the past few weeks, the developers of these proposed wind energy generation facilities, Babcock and Brown and PPM, have made statements at public meetings and in the media insinuating that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife and environmental groups have vetted and approved their plans to install more than 500 wind turbines – approximately 400 feet tall, as big as the Statue of Liberty – squarely in one of the most active migratory bird pathways in North America.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While the developers have met with these organizations, none has given these projects a green light. In fact, USFWS, TPWD, the Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense have all sent letters either to the developer or to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, pointing out potential problems or requesting a full environmental assessment prior to construction.
The developer’s vagueness about the participation and opinions of the agencies and environmental groups is confusing at best and dishonest at worst:
* “Officials from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and other agencies reviewed the study results and haven’t ex-pressed the same complaints as the Coastal Habitat Alliance, Johnson said.” (Valley Morning Star, Jan. 3)
* “In keeping with this environmentally sensitive profile, Penascal is being developed to avoid or minimize environmental impacts on birds, wildlife, and wetlands. The development team has consulted with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers, local and regional environmental stakeholders, and national environmental consulting firms experienced in wind energy project sitting.” (PPM Brochure)
* “Calaway (Babcock & Brown) said his firm has met numerous times with U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists, who have made site visits.” (Kingsville Record, Jan. 19)
These groups have never provided the developers any endorsement of the projects.
There has been no official review of any study funded by the developers by USFWS or TPWD. In fact, the developers are taking the position that no governmental agency has permitting or approval authority involving these studies. Accordingly, there have been no official statements from either the TPWD or USFWS validating the private studies performed by the developers.
Implying that silence from agencies with no official mandate to respond equals agreement or endorsement is inaccurate, if not dishonest. These implications are particularly egregious when all public statements from these agencies and environmental groups indicated that the current studies are inadequate.
In August 2007, a USFWS field supervisor sent a letter notifying one of the developers that, to avoid violating federal law, it would require a permit from the service to “take” any endangered or threatened species and encouraging them to work with the service to obtain such a permit. The developers have not pursued that option, which would entail completing a Habitat Conservation Plan under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act.
The Nature Conservancy filed a letter with PUC requesting that a full environmental impact study be performed for the transmission line and wind power generating facilities. The TPWD sent a letter stating that endangered and threat-ened wildlife species could be harmed by construction of the power lines.
The truth is that the location of the proposed facilities is among the worst possible locations in the entire United States. EDM, an independent consulting group with a long history of assessing avian interactions with energy production, transmission and distribution, summarized the potential threat to migrating and resident birds as being nearly as high as it would be in a national wildlife refuge, using the USFWS’ 2003 “Interim Guidance on Avoiding and Minimizing Wildlife Impacts from Wind Turbines” and its associated potential impact index for these initial comparisons.
EDM’s experts also critiqued the developers’ impact assessment studies and found significant flaws in the study methodologies and conclusions that they could not be used to make any definitive statements about the possible threat to wildlife. EDM’s team concluded that if these wind energy projects went forward at their current locations, they could result in the greatest avian mass mortality event in the history of wind energy.
From the beginning of our effort, CHA has claimed simply that a project of this scope in such a sensitive region demands an official and public environmental assessment, and we remain confident that such a process would reach similar conclusions as EDM: this wind project may be a good idea somewhere, but it’s a bad idea along the coast in Kenedy County.
We invite any comments or questions you may have regarding this important issue. You may download the EDM environmental report, as well as CHA’s Executive Summary of the report and other material about the proposed wind power generating facilities, at www.coastalhabitatalliance.org.
By Jim Blackburn
Blackburn is founder of the Coastal Habitat Alliance.
10 February 2008