Environmentalists want to keep power transmission lines out of a pristine Fort Worth park.
The view from the top of the hill at Fort Worth Prairie Park was impressive on a recent blustery day. For as far as the eye could see, rows and rows of golden-brown prairie grass swayed back and forth.
Walking down a narrow, muddy path, Jarid Manos talked passionately about the thousands of monarch butterflies that fill the prairie each spring, the hundreds of grasshopper sparrows that come to mate, and many of the other species that make this nearly 2,000-acre spit of land on Fort Worth’s rapidly growing southwest side as biologically diverse as a rain forest.
But Manos, whose Great Plains Restoration Council is desperately trying to preserve the land, had not come to admire the prairie. He had come to discuss the recent threat to its continued existence as a pristine landmark.
Florida Power & Light Co. – with 1,600 wind turbines the largest wind-power generator in Texas – is considering putting power transmission lines through the heart of the prairie to bring environmentally friendly wind-generated power to Fort Worth and Dallas.
Doing so would supply 2,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity – enough to power 500,000 homes – reducing the amount of electricity needed from coal-fired plants and thus cutting emissions that contribute to ozone pollution and global warming.
The possibility of 130-foot-high transmission lines cutting through the prairie, however, complicates local efforts to purchase and preserve it. The state’s General Land Office, which bought the property as an investment for $21 million in 2005 and is considering whether to sell it to a private developer, has given local leaders time to raise the money to purchase the property.
The issue pits two popular interests against each other: the drive for cleaner fuels, and the effort to preserve the few remaining environmentally pristine lands that have yet to be developed.
Florida Power & Light officials say cutting through the prairie is only one possible route for the transmission line, which will stretch 200 miles from Abilene to the Fort Worth area, a project they call the D/FW Express.
“You have this wonderful wind resource in West Texas, but you don’t have the ability to get it from West Texas to where all the load is,” said Steve Stengel, a company spokesman.
“The idea is to bring more wind power in your state to market, and in order to do that you need new transmission.”
Jim Suydam, a spokesman for the General Land Office, said Florida Power & Light has not contacted the agency, and he declined to discuss the possibility of transmission lines cutting through the property. But Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks had no such reservations.
“Running those transmission lines through the middle of the prairie would totally disrupt the pristine environment that we’re attempting to preserve in the first place,” said Brooks, who helped persuade the Commissioners Court to pledge $1 million toward the purchase of the property last year. “If they clipped off a corner, I suppose we could live with that if we had to. But right through the middle? No, that would not qualify as conservation.”
Project would bring wind power from West Texas to the Metroplex
It’s land preservation versus clean energy. On one hand is Fort Worth Prairie Park, a pristine tract of nearly 2,000 acres. On the other is transporting wind-generated power. Texas is the nation’s largest generator of this type of energy at 3,300 megawatts (enough to power 1.7 million homes), but most of the state’s wind turbines are in West Texas, far from major population centers. To resolve that, the state has made a concerted effort to build more transmission lines. Officials estimate that wind power could reach 23,000 megawatts if the state aggressively builds transmission lines.
The prairie park
The prairie is an important breeding and resting ground for internationally migrating monarch butterflies and grassland birds. There are threatened and endangered species, including a 300-year-old native Texas cedar elm tree. Jarid Manos, chief executive of the Great Plains Restoration Council, and other supporters sometimes refer to it as the “prairie rain forest,” because the diversity of life on the site is on par with that in a rain forest.
The preservation effort
The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization that protects land through deed restrictions or land acquisition, is helping the Great Plains Restoration Council line up donors. Progress has been slow. “I think what we’re all really hoping for here, because we’re looking at needing $21 million, is identifying a prospect that can commit to the bulk of that amount. And then finding a million here, a million there becomes a lot easier,” said James Sharp, a spokesman for the trust. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.”
Florida Power & Light needs approval from the Public Utility Commission. The company needs a permit that requires an environmental assessment of the route and its effect on the prairie.
Photographs, maps and detailed data about the prairie are available at the Great Plains Restoration Council Web site, www.gprc.org/fortworthprairiepark.html
By Scott Streater
24 February 2008
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