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Sierra Club raises concerns about South Texas offshore wind farm

CORPUS CHRISTI – An environmental group outlined concerns Wednesday on how proposed offshore wind farms, poised to become the first in the Texas, might negatively affect wildlife.

Baryonyx Corp. wants to install 200 wind turbines each in three areas off the South Texas coast, one of which is planned for the Coastal Bend.

While the Sierra Club hasn’t taken a stance on the proposal, the group’s comments to the Army Corps of Engineers illustrate why the project is likely to be one of the state’s most scrutinized wind energy developments.

“Since the proposed Baryonyx project may be the first such offshore wind project to go forward in Texas, it is essential that this project be done right – it may well set the precedent for many other projects to come,” wrote Ken Kramer, director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter.

Kramer said Sierra Club is worried about bird deaths because about 380 bird species may inhabit Padre Island National Seashore in a given year, including 13 threatened and endangered species, in addition to the endangered Kemps ridley sea turtles.

But Kramer’s letter also praised Baryonyx for supporting an environmental impact study even though a preliminary review of the project by the Corps of Engineers said a study wasn’t necessary.

Baryonyx applied for a permit that includes a 26,200-acre lease east of Mustang Island.

The company also leased an alternate, 45,000-acre area south of Corpus Christi and east of Baffin Bay, anticipating military objections to the Mustang Island site.

The other two sites are off South Padre Island.

In June, after the Corps of Engineers issued a public notice on the Baryonyx permit application, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi chimed in with its own concerns about conflicts between wind turbines and military radar.

Turbines can create false radar images and force radar controllers to disregard radar images in swathes of airspace to negate the turbines’ effects, meaning planes flying in those areas can’t be detected at all. Technologies that alleviate the false returns are years away from being implemented, defense experts say.

The Navy base’s analysis concluded that the alternate site proposed by Baryonyx is less likely to interfere with base operations than the Mustang Island site.

Kramer’s letter underscored a common complaint among critics of wind projects in Texas: that information isn’t publicly available far enough in advance of construction.

“Without such basic information as to the exact location of the lease sites, the number of wind turbines for each site, the spacing of the wind turbines, the specific turbine design, and operational guidelines for the wind turbines, it is impossible to predict the impacts of this project,” Kramer wrote.

Baryonyx officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Mark Leyland, senior vice president of offshore wind projects, has said the Corps of Engineers permit is an early step in the process.

Even if the permit is issued, Baryonyx still would need further authorization from the agency when deciding which type of turbine to use and how best to connect to the electrical grid, Leyland said.

The Sierra Club’s comments come during a month when record-setting heat has underscored the benefits of coastal wind: It blows during the day and afternoon, when summer electricity demand peaks.