The legal battle over two large wind energy projects on the South Texas coast escalated Tuesday when the Coastal Habitat Alliance asked a federal judge in Austin to halt ongoing construction.
Citing the threat of irreparable environmental harm, lawyers for the alliance, a loose coalition of opponents of the massive projects, asked U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel to issue a preliminary injunction against the developers.
“The wind farms threaten a particularly precious, vulnerable area surrounding the Laguna Madre,” reads the motion. “If (construction) is allowed to continue, this will cause one of the most serious environmental disasters ever to occur on the Texas coast.”
The group’s 10 members include the King Ranch, the American Bird Conservancy, the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation and the Coastal Bend Audubon Society.
Its lawyer, Jim Blackburn, said another motion seeking swifter action will likely follow.
“Essentially, we are filing this to get it on the record, and I expect we’ll come back and file for a temporary restraining order later this week, asking for an immediate hearing to stop everything,” he said.
The adjacent wind energy projects, which will cover tens of thousands of acres of open prairie on the 400,000-acre Kenedy Ranch, belong to Babcock & Brown, an Australian company, and PPM Energy, a division of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.
Construction crews currently are building access roads and pad sites for turbines.
If fully developed, the two projects will generate enough electricity to power 180,000 Texas homes.
This month, CPS Energy in San Antonio agreed to a 15-year contract to buy 75 megawatts of electricity – enough for 17,500 homes – from PPM Energy, with production expected to begin this year.
Members of the alliance, however, argue that hundreds of 400-foot-tall, propeller-driven turbines will endanger migrating birds and spoil an untouched section of the Texas coast. And, they say, the coastal environment is being ruined even before the first turbine is installed.
Last fall, the Texas Public Utility Commission approved a high-voltage transmission line for the project after ruling that the Coastal Habitat Alliance did not have standing to oppose it. The PUC, however, says it does not have the authority to regulate the wind farms themselves.
In December, the alliance sued Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, other state agency officials and the project developers in federal court. It claims the agencies failed to regulate the construction of coastal wind farms as required by the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.
The motion filed Tuesday restates that complex argument.
“This lawsuit is somewhat unique. It basically brings constitutional law questions to environmental law. It alleges violation of the U.S. Constitution by the General Land Office and the Public Utility Commission by their failure to regulate the wind energy projects under the coastal management program in Texas,” Blackburn said.
Calls to PPM Energy were not returned. Matt Dallas, a spokesman for Babcock & Brown, defended the company.
“Babcock & Brown is one of America’s leading wind energy developers, and we’re very proud of our environmental record,” he said. “If anyone examines how we’re handling the environmental aspects of this project, we think they’d be very pleased. We don’t believe there are any grounds for a preliminary injunction.”
18 March 2008
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