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Public meeting slated for proposed SPI wind farm

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has taken charge of a proposed wind farm that Baryonyx Corporation Inc., an Austin-based company with roots in Great Britain, wants to build off the coast of South Padre Island.

The corps has scheduled the first public meeting on the project for March 28 in Brownsville, according to a notice in the Federal Register published March 14. Public comments will be accepted through May 14. The purpose of the meeting is to help determine the scope of the environmental study – known as an Environmental Impact Statement – that the corps will conduct for the project.

The EIS will assess the potential social, economic and environmental impact of construction of the proposed wind farm and its associated facilities. The effect on marine and avian animals will be central to the study. In addition to the turbines and mounting platforms, the project would require up to four electrical substations in order to reduce the number of transmission lines to shore. According to the Federal Register, a draft EIS report should be available to the public by December 2014.

Baryonyx’s plan calls for 100 to 200 wind turbine generators in each of two different leases in Gulf of Mexico waters: These have been dubbed the “Rio Grande Lease,” off Cameron County, and the “Rio Grande North Lease,” off Willacy County. The two sites together consist of approximately 41,000 acres.

Baryonyx originally had proposed a third site, off Mustang Island near Corpus Christi, but decided to drop it from the current permit application. Mark Leyland, Baryonyx senior vice president for offshore wind projects, said issues affecting that site (and a nearby alternate site) might have slowed down approval of the Rio Grande and Rio Grande North sites, thus the company’s decision to remove it from the application.

According to the Federal Register notice, Baryonyx excluded Mustang Island from its current application because of the potential impact on the Padre Island National Seashore and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. Leyland said the company still wants to develop a Corpus Christi site and would submit that application later.

The wind farms, if built, would provide electrical capacity to the immediate market in Texas and potentially to the wholesale market. In July 2009 Baryonyx signed an agreement with the Texas General Land Office to lease offshore acreage at the three sites. In June 2011 the company submitted its application to the corps. The corps announced the need for a full EIS last November. The alternative would have been a less stringent “Environmental Assessment.” Baryonyx officials had long insisted a full EIS was necessary given the magnitude of the project.

Leyland and the company’s other principals have experience with offshore wind: As part of Eclipse Energy, headquartered in England, Leyland and Baryonyx CEO Ian Hatton developed the Ormonde wind farm project in the Irish Sea. For now, however, the corps is in the driver’s seat regarding the South Texas project. Leyland said his company is at the corps’ disposal.

“By the end of May the corps will have an understanding of what they want to be studied,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to support them in getting that data and satisfying those requirements.”