Impact on Wildlife and Texas
"What people need to understand is that it's not just prairie chickens. It's really the inter-connectedness of these biotic communities," Boal said. "When we have indicators like a prairie chicken, and there's something going wrong, that's an indication of that biotic community as a whole. We need to think about, ‘what is the world we want to live in?'
Oil, gas and wind energy producers are working to persuade federal wildlife officials not to enact protections for the lesser prairie chicken, a move that could force them to halt or significantly alter their operations to protect the species' dwindling grassland habitat.
In a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers in May, a top Texas Parks and Wildlife official said his agency had serious concerns about the project.
"Numerous federal and state-listed threatened and endangered species and species of concern have been documented within or near the proposed corridors within which transmission lines would be constructed."
"Construction of the proposed North Rio Grande and Rio Grande offshore wind energy development sites in South Texas would result in a nearly contiguous string of wind energy developments within a 35-mile wide corridor from San Patricio County southward to Cameron County," wrote Ross Melinchuk, deputy executive director of natural resources at TPWD.
Lanoue and his wife, Linda, came to ask federal officials to press the industry to report more information about bird deaths at wind farms, echoing a common complaint from wildlife advocates who say the industry hasn't done enough to measure the effect of turbines on birds.
The plan would provide conservation guidelines for development of wind farms across a 200-mile-wide migratory flyway from the Gulf of Mexico to North Dakota and Montana.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding an informational and public input meeting Thursday at the American Bank Center, the last in an initial series of meetings across the plan area.
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. 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.
Mark Leyland, Baryonyx's senior vice president of offshore wind projects, said he'd be surprised if USACE didn't call for a full-scale EIS, though his company intends to do an EIS-equivalent study no matter what the agency decides. He added that people are right to be concerned about the project's impact.
The spinning blades, alongside some of the most important habitat in Texas and one of North America's largest migratory flyways, are killing thousands of birds and bats each year.
How many isn't publicly known because, unlike California counties, Texas and the federal government don't require turbine operators to make public reports, according to state and federal officials.
"The nation is about to confront a major infrastructure-transmission discussion," said Michael Webber, an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. "And if it's hard in Texas, where we're good at it and we have experience and we've figured out funding models, what's it going to be like in the nation? It might be a very bruising fight."
The Public Utility Commission voted Wednesday to approve the route for a wind energy transmission line to run from near Childress to Lefors.
The first final approval of a Panhandle wind energy line came despite last-minute protests by Gray County commissioners and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
We watched as the pelicans continued soaring between us and the turbines. It appeared that they were getting closer and closer to the next turbine, but it was hard to get a handle on how close they actually were. Finally, they were approaching one of the most easterly turbines in that particular string, and we watched as the last bird in the group was struck and literally "erased" from the air (a blade is about the width of a city bus, and moving about 180 mph). It was flying at or just below hub height, and was hit on the downstroke.
B&W Pantex is partnering with West Texas A&M University to study the effects of wind turbines and associated infrastructure on wildlife at Pantex.
The contract for evaluating the wind farm's effects on wildlife began this past fall and will continue through the next five years.
The Pantex Site Office is in the process of designing, constructing, operating and maintaining a renewable energy source and its associated distribution infrastructure on Pantex property and nearby land.
This makes this research project timely and necessary.
When it comes to generating green energy from the wind, Texas leads the way.
But in the pursuit of cleaner energy, there's also an environmental cost: Dead birds and bats killed by turbine blades.
Now a unique research project in North Texas is trying to find out how many are dying and what can be done to save them.
As Texas continues to flip the switch from dirty coal to clean wind, not all is perfectly green.
Iberdrola SA and E.ON AG's turbine dreams for the windswept Texas Panhandle may be stymied by the mating rituals of the lesser prairie chicken.
Wind-power developers such as E.ON are scouring sagebrush and grasslands for the presence of ground-dwelling chickens that could impede turbine construction plans. Once plentiful in the southern high plains, the bird has a high priority for listing under the Endangered Species Act, which would put at risk where as much as $11 billion in turbines that are part of the U.S.'s renewable-energy push can be built.
As the wind-energy industry continues to grow, state officials are developing guidelines to help wildlife and wind turbines coexist on the High Plains, a first step that may serve as a blueprint for the rest of Texas.
"We're trying to get Panhandle-specific guidelines that would include the lesser-prairie chicken," said Kathy Boydston, program leader for wildlife habitat assessment at the state Parks & Wildlife Department.
Should the lesser prairie chicken become listed as threatened or endangered - and it's close now - there would be significant restrictions on companies hoping to plant towering turbines across a five-state region believed to have some of the nation's best wind energy potential.
"We've never seen the likes of this," said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist Heather Whitlaw, who is part of conservation efforts with the other states and believes the bird could be listed within two years. "Anybody who puts anything on our landscape would be evaluated in one form or another."
Similar to transformations brought by oil and agricultural industries in past decades, the [wind] industry's impact is more than skin deep. Some researchers have found going green through a new generation of windmills may not be what's best for the environment.
"There's almost no understanding of the environmental impact of these wind turbines," said Ronald Kendall, director of Texas Tech's Institute of Environmental and Human Health. "I'm all for alternative energy, but I'm for getting it right."
The Competitive Renewable Energy Zone transmission lines proposed to pass through West and Central Texas have a number of ranchers and small town dwellers up in arms about the effect the 200-foot-tall lattice towers would have on the scenic Texas Hill Country.
The Lower Colorado River Authority-Transmission Services Corp. proposes to construct three new, double-circuit, bundled conductor, 345-kilovolt transmission lines, primarily on double-circuit-capable lattice structures.
The office announced Thursday that it has reached an agreement with Baryonyx Corp., a Houston-based green energy company, that could turn waters off the island coast into the nation's biggest wind farm.
Baryonyx Corp. was the sole bidder for the right to build a wind farm off the island's eastern shore, GLO spokesman Jim Suydam said.