The Baryonyx Corporation’s proposed South Texas offshore wind farm project will be subject to a full Environmental Impact Statement, according to a decision by the Galveston District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The alternative would have been for the USACE to settle for a less stringent Environmental Assessment.
Austin-based Baryonyx, which submitted permit applications to the USACE in June, announced the agency’s decision late last month. The company has proposed developing offshore wind leases off South Padre Island and Nueces County, and has more than 67,000 acres of submerged lands under lease from the Texas General Land Office across three sites between Corpus Christi and Brownsville.
This includes nearly 48,000 acres off Cameron County, divided between two parcels Baryonyx has named “Rio Grande” and “Rio Grande North.” The company is leasing more than 26,000 acres off Nueces County for its “Mustang Project.” If fully developed, the sites taken together could generate up to 3 gigawatts of electricity. One gigawatt equals 1 billion watts.
The USACE’s decision to order a full EIS comes as no surprise to Baryonyx officials. Mark Leyland, vice president for offshore projects, said he fully expected the USACE to call for it and in fact Baryonyx welcomes the move given the magnitude of the project.
An EIS is the most thorough type of environmental review the USACE can demand. The National Environment Policy Act requires it in the case of actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” An Environmental Assessment, which is done first to assess the need for an EIS, is sometimes all that’s required in projects that may or may not cause significant impact.
Leyland said the USACE will select the third-party contractor that will conduct the EIS, and the USACE will control the process, though the contract itself will be between Baryonyx and the contractor. He added that “the process is very much the Corps’ from now on.” Leyland said that contrary to what some have asserted, taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for the EIS.
“We pay for the environmental contractor that operates under the direction of the Corps to develop the Environmental Impact Statement,” he said.
The study will examine, among other things, the potential impact on migratory birds, bats, sea turtles and other marine life. The EIS will take two years to prepare, with the final draft likely to be submitted to the USACE in the first quarter of 2014. Construction on the wind farm wouldn’t begin until 2015 at the earliest.
Leyland and other Baryonyx executives came from Eclipse Energy, a British firm that developed the Ormonde wind farm project in the Irish Sea. That project, nearing completion, uses the largest wind turbines available, rated at 5 megawatts each though capable of producing more, according to Leyland. One megawatt equals 1 million watts.
Baryonyx’s Texas projects would use the same turbines on a much larger scale. The Ormonde Project calls for 30 turbines on 2,500 acres. Baryonyx’s Rio Grande and Rio Grande South leases, totaling roughly 41,00 acres, would feature rows of more than 300 turbines, each set of 50 taking two years to build. Leyland said turbines would be located no nearer than five miles from the coast, still close enough for them to be seen.
In a press release, Leyland expressed confidence that the EIS would confirm the company’s initial investigations, which concluded the wind farm project “would not result in an unacceptable impact on wildlife and other resources.”
“We believe that the thorough, scientific approach required by the EIS process will verify our preliminary findings,” he said.
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