June 15, 2008

Wind farm project moving forward despite opposition

RAYMONDVILLE – Developers expect to see 250 wind turbines by the end of the year on Kenedy Ranch, generating enough electricity for about 90,000 homes.

But that’s just the beginning: the project may double in size and triple in generating capacity, according to an analysis of documents filed with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

Construction is well under way on two wind farms that, in the first phase, would cover about 20,000 acres of the historic ranch, the developers – Australia-based Babcock & Brown and Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola Renewables, formerly PPM Energy – confirmed late last year.

Still, environmental groups and the King Ranch haven’t given up the fight to stop them.

The alliance has tried several avenues to halt the wind farms’ construction, from requesting a hearing with the Public Utility Commission of Texas to filing a federal lawsuit in December. The group has sued the wind developers, the General Land Office and members of the Public Utility Commission board, saying that a public hearing should take place before the farms are built.

In May, the alliance filed an injunction to stop the development. The federal judge that heard the case has not yet made a decision.

The groups say that the ranch is on a major migratory pathway for birds, and they believe that fast-spinning, tall turbines on that pathway could lead to trouble.

“We think there’s a very high likelihood of catastrophic bird kills,” said Elyse Yates, alliance spokeswoman.

The developers, meanwhile, maintain that the turbines will pose minimal risk to birds, although they declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit.

Work in progress

About a half-dozen turbine towers are partially built on the Iberdrola tract, said spokeswoman Jan Johnson. Workers are receiving deliveries of components daily, she said.

No turbines are up yet on Babcock & Brown’s tract, but workers have installed a few turbine bases and are building roads, said spokesman Matt Dallas. He declined to give further details on the project because of the pending litigation.

The Iberdrola farm will have wind turbines manufactured by Mitsubishi Power Systems, each generating 2.4 megawatts of electricity. It’s likely the Babcock & Brown farm will have the same turbines – last year, the company ordered 118 of them for “projects in the Southwest,” according to a 2007 press release from Mitsubishi.

These turbines range from 375 to 400 feet tall from the base to tip of the blades. That’s about 36 stories tall – about five stories taller than the Statue of Liberty.

One of the wind farms already has a customer. San Antonio-based CPS Energy has signed an agreement for 77 megawatts of electricity from the Iberdrola farm, which is enough power for about 19,000 homes.

Both developers are projecting the first phase of their projects will be completed by late 2008.

The fight continues

The Coastal Habitat Alliance is dogged in its efforts to stop the projects because the groups say they want more studies to be done, and for the public to have a say – even though the farms are on privately owned land.

In its lawsuit, the alliance says the project should be subject to federal coastal-management rules, which call for environmental reviews of any electricity-generating plants.

State officials have said they disagree. But a federal judge is still considering the argument, which gives environmental advocates hope, said spokeswoman Yates.

“It gives us the feeling that we have a good shot,” Yates said.

More groups have joined the alliance in recent months, including Audubon Texas.

“We’re concerned about developing a wind farm on the Texas coast,” said Anne Brown, Audubon Texas vice president. “We wish there would have been more research involved.”

The alliance last year commissioned its own review of the wind-farm site, hiring Colorado-based consultants EDM International. The consultants determined that the location was “among the worst that can be found on any piece of private land in Texas” because the region’s wetlands are a stopping place for migrating birds.

The developers say they’ve conducted their own studies, and have concluded that birds mostly steer clear of the area.

Until the judge’s ruling, everyone’s in a waiting game, Yates said.

“Every day, we’re waiting for the call,” she said.

Melissa McEver

The Monitor

14 June 2008

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2008/06/15/wind-farm-project-moving-forward-despite-opposition/