BROWNSVILLE – A representative of Austin-based Baryonyx Corporation will be in Brownsville Tuesday to discuss the company’s plans to develop wind farms off South Padre Island.
Baryonyx holds two offshore leases totaling 41,000 acres off the Island, and another 26,000 acres off Corpus Christi. The company, which recently submitted its permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, held a presentation in Corpus Christi earlier this month.
Mark Leyland Sr., senior vice president of offshore wind projects for the company, said he expects to encounter the same questions in Brownsville that were raised during the Corpus Christi session. The main issues are the effect on migratory birds and the visual impact of towering wind turbines offshore.
While some fear Baryonyx will “massacre migratory birds,” the company has no intention of doing that and plans site-specific studies to accurately gauge the impact on wildlife, Leyland said, adding that initial studies point to little effect on birds.
“We need to go out there and put in place proper studies to be able to verify that,” Leyland said. “I’m not going to say it’s not going to happen, but there’s no basis for saying it is going to happen.”
Ian Hatton, Baryonyx’s director and CEO, has previous experience with migratory flyways. A company he founded in 1999 called Eclipse Energy is responsible for the Ormonde wind farm project in the Irish Sea. The Ormonde project, green-lighted in 2007 and currently under construction, is located within a migratory flyway.
In a January 2010 interview with The Brownsville Herald, Hatton said that although the environmental assessment for the Ormonde Project concluded birds were unlikely to be an issue, Eclipse voluntarily established a protocol for shutting down the turbines during migrations until data collection was sufficient to tell whether there was a problem or not.
As for the aesthetic aspect of turbines offshore, Leyland admits “it is an issue,” but said the structures wouldn’t be closer than five miles to shore. Still, they’re very large and would be visible. Leyland points out that people seem to object to seeing offshore oil rigs on the horizon, and thinks wind turbines are better looking.
“It really is a matter of the eye of the beholder,” Leyland said. “Some people think they’re ugly as sin. Some people think they’re quite beautiful.”
On the plus side, a wind farm would mean jobs in areas such as fabrication, engineering, laying cable, and maintenance and operations. Such projects are extremely capital intensive. Money is the reason Baryonyx is continually analyzing the project for the “fatal flaw” that would make it unfeasible – too great of an environmental impact, for instance, Leyland said.
“If it’s not acceptable from an environmental point of view we will walk away, he said. “We need to make sure we don’t spend too much money before we find that out. At the moment we feel secure enough to be able to move forward.”
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