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Rural residents battling large corporations over planned wind farms

A pair of large wind energy facilities proposed in Clay, Jack and Montague counties would wreak havoc on the whooping cranes that pass through the area as part of their migratory pattern, according to a wildlife group. That’s the assessment of wildlife biologist Jennifer Blair of Blair Wildlife Consulting, who was hired by the North Texas Heritage Association to study the plans offered by Apex Clean Energy and EDF Renewables.

Wind turbines in three Texas counties could threaten whooping cranes.

A pair of large wind energy facilities proposed in Clay, Jack and Montague counties would wreak havoc on the whooping cranes that pass through the area as part of their migratory pattern, according to a wildlife group.

That’s the assessment of wildlife biologist Jennifer Blair of Blair Wildlife Consulting, who was hired by the North Texas Heritage Association to study the plans offered by Apex Clean Energy and EDF Renewables.

Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., develops, constructs and operates utility-scale wind and solar power facilities across North America, according to its website. It has developed 13 facilities, six in Texas, six in Oklahoma and one in Illinois.

EDF Renewables is a subsidiary of the French utility EDF Group, the world’s largest producer of electricity. It is primarily owned by the French government, and has developed and operates wind farms in 18 countries.

There are two proposed wind farms. One is the Black Angus Wind Farm, under development by Black Angus Wind, LLC, APEX Clean Energy, Inc. and related companies. It would spread... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Wind turbines in three Texas counties could threaten whooping cranes.

A pair of large wind energy facilities proposed in Clay, Jack and Montague counties would wreak havoc on the whooping cranes that pass through the area as part of their migratory pattern, according to a wildlife group.

That’s the assessment of wildlife biologist Jennifer Blair of Blair Wildlife Consulting, who was hired by the North Texas Heritage Association to study the plans offered by Apex Clean Energy and EDF Renewables.

Apex Clean Energy, based in Charlottesville, Va., develops, constructs and operates utility-scale wind and solar power facilities across North America, according to its website. It has developed 13 facilities, six in Texas, six in Oklahoma and one in Illinois.

EDF Renewables is a subsidiary of the French utility EDF Group, the world’s largest producer of electricity. It is primarily owned by the French government, and has developed and operates wind farms in 18 countries.

There are two proposed wind farms. One is the Black Angus Wind Farm, under development by Black Angus Wind, LLC, APEX Clean Energy, Inc. and related companies. It would spread across 30,000 acres in the three counties with 100 wind turbines producing 350 megawatts of power.

The EDF Renewables Development Inc. project has not been identified by name and no details were available, according to the study.

Blair’s report focused on the impact the proposed wind farms, with their massive turbines, would have on the Aransas-Wood Buffalo (AWBP) population of whooping cranes.

“The proposed APEX & EDF wind farm sites contain known stopover habitat areas occupied and utilized by whooping cranes over multiple years during both spring and fall migrations,” the report states. “The two most likely impacts of wind development on whooping cranes within the proposed APEX & EDF wind farm sites are: direct mortality of whooping cranes due to collisions with transmission lines, turbines, or other facilities; and avoidance of the area around the facilities by whooping cranes.”

Bryon Barton of the NTHA, which has nearly 600 members, mostly ranchers who enjoy the rural lifestyle and own around 420,000 acres of land in north Texas, said the turbines could harm the small bird flock and pose other safety risks.

“Turbines are known to be bird killers. ABC, the American Bird Conservancy, estimates that over 1 million birds per year are killed by wind turbines,” he said. “This is a well-documented fact that is often overlooked by the media because ‘renewable energy’ is so politically correct in today's society concerned about climate change. Nevertheless, it is well documented, and is especially the case for large soaring birds that are not highly maneuverable and are as cumbersome in flight such as the whooping crane.

“Unfortunately, this situation will be exacerbated by the turbines that Apex and EDF are reported to be employing in their projects. Each individual turbine is expected to be 480 to 500 feet high. Think of that — it's the equivalent of over 200 50-story tall meat grinders spread exactly across the whooping cranes’ flight path.”

There are no records of whooping cranes being killed in a collision with wind turbines, but Barton said that could be misleading.

“Although no whooping crane killings have been documented so far, there have been documented killings of sandhill cranes, a more numerous sister species who are often used as a surrogate in studies,” he said. “And it makes sense that when there are only 505 individuals, a take is statistically less probable. There is also the more sinister belief [held by many conservationists] that knows wind farms have employees who make the rounds of all operating turbines every morning, and any injured or dead birds simply disappear.”

Several findings in report

Barton said the Blair Wildlife Consulting report offered several conclusions:

The proposed wind farm installation is located in the 50 percent corridor core of the migratory route of the whooping cranes, an area designated by the USGS and ESF&WS as critical stopover locations for the birds.

Whooping cranes, the largest birds in North America, stop over in these locations to rest and feed on both the northbound and southbound legs of their annual 5,000-mile migration to northern Canada. The location of the turbines, in combination with other existing turbines, will in all likelihood disrupt the whooping cranes’ migration and force them to change their migratory paths, causing additional stress and fatigue, according to the report.

The proposed sites can reasonably be expected to cause “take,” including the mortality of whooping cranes.

“There are only 505 remaining migratory whooping cranes left in the wild,” Barton said. “The loss of a single breeding pair would materially affect the genetic material required for the species survival.”

There once were more than 10,000 whooping cranes in North America. But they were hunted and killed, for meat, eggs or often just for a cruel sport, and their population waned to just 15 by 1941.

It has slowly been rebuilt. These wind towers, the study indicates, could reduce that endangered population.

“Whooping cranes undertake a 5,000-mile round-trip migration from the breeding area in Canada to the wintering area in Texas every year,” the report states. “Normally, migration occurs as single individuals, pairs, family groups, or in small flocks, sometimes accompanying sandhill cranes. Flocks of up to 10 sub-adults have been observed feeding at stopover areas during migration. Whooping cranes depart the breeding ground in Canada, travel south through Alberta, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to their wintering ground on the Texas coast.”

Barton said the wind developers don’t need approval or a license and can do “whatever they want, or feel big enough to get away with” once they have access to land.

“There is no state or federal regulation that can stop them if they are prepared to assume the risk of one day having a ‘take’ of an endangered species,” he said. “An agreement between the developer and a landowner is all that is needed. There is no certificate or permit that is required. A county can withhold a road use permit for example, but there is no supervising body in the wind development industry similar to the Texas Railroad Commission in the oil industry, for example.

“The wind industry in Texas is completely unregulated. Even the compliance with Endangered Species Act is voluntary,” Barton said. “I simply couldn't believe it when I first learned of it. If you build and commission a wind farm without consultation with the USF&WS, and then at a later date take an endangered whooper, for example, they will theoretically throw the book at you. But even then, a $200,000 fine as a cost in a $500,000,000 project is nothing more than a bump in the road.”

However, he said most wind developers at least try to be compliant with the USF&WS guidelines.

“It is in their interests to do so,” Barton said. “They want to be seen as Green Champions to the public.”

However, he said the Apex and EDF wind farms represent a clear “take” or threat against an endangered species that is prohibited under state law.

“Our demand letters to Apex and EDF cite the ESA, which is federal law as administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,” Barton said. “Our independent environmental habitat study specifically concludes that a ‘take’ as defined in the ESA can be reasonably expected. The siting is so egregious that this conclusion is warranted.”

He said the NTHA requested this study to obtain a definitive, professional evaluation of the environmental facts.

“We knew that our claims would bear little weight if it were based upon emotion, speculation, or anecdotal observations,” Barton said. “By having an official professional study, by an independent registered environmental biologist who is licensed to study endangered species, the results would be incontrovertible. It was expensive, but we know it is based on hard facts, including the very most recently published USF&WS telemetry studies of the actual stopover locations for many years.”

Blair has worked in the environmental consulting field for 17 years. She is a principal and the owner of Blair Wildlife Consulting LLC, and registered as a certified wildlife biologist by The Wildlife Society.

Her office is in Kyle and she works on projects throughout Texas. Blair said she has no personal position on wind power.

“No, we are an unbiased third party,” she said. “For this project our objective was to review and evaluate potential impacts to the whooping crane based on the best available science regarding the species.”

But she does feel it is important to preserve whooping cranes.

“The National Wildlife Federation has a great quote regarding the conservation of the species: ‘The story of the whooping crane plays out like a Hollywood script: it starts with tragedy, continues with struggles toward redemption, and ends with renewed hope and dreams for the future.’

“The whooping crane is one of those iconic species that thanks to the continued efforts and hard work of numerous dedicated conservation programs and federal protection, their slow comeback from the brink of extinction is a story that most everyone knows about,” Blair said. “Whooping cranes take years to reach sexual maturity, and lay only two eggs each time they nest. They are territorial creatures that require a lot of open space, and avoid areas with vertical obstructions of sight and roadways. Their biological and behavioral characteristics makes recovery of this species a slow and challenging process.”

She said while the whooping crane population is slowly recovering, the threats to the continued existence of this species continues to increase. 

“Each individual within the last remaining wild population is critically important to the future recovery of the species, because a single catastrophe — whether from a late-season hurricane, chemical spill, drought, or disease — could decimate the flock,” Blair said. “The ongoing and future landscape changes within their migration corridor further threatens the survival of the species. If they cannot complete their migration, they cannot raise the next generation. Therefore, the protection of important areas within their migration corridor is critical for the continued growth and recovery of the last remaining wild population of whooping cranes.”

’Hardly a fair fight’

The North Texas Heritage Association “seeks to encourage the preservation of their values, traditions, environment and rural economy as stewards of their beautiful countryside,” the report states. “NTHA seeks to encourage supportive civic government and community involvement, and to actively promote passing these values on to future generations.”

Barton, a retired local resident, serves as “the operations guy” for the association, a 501(c)3 with a governing board. It was formed in 2019, after merging the efforts of the Montague County organization with the one from Clay County.

“It was more efficient that way, and gave us more clout,” Barton said. “The first two organizations have been around for more than five years. Funding comes 100 percent from member contributions.”

They see these massive wind farms as a destructive force to an area they cherish. 

It is, Barton says “our sad story,” and one he hopes is shared with many more people.

“It just infuriates us that our beautiful land can be destroyed by turning it into what amounts to an industrial estate, and have our most endangered species of bird threatened in the process. Future generations will never forgive us,” he said. “And the NTHA will never forgive the companies that do it, nor the governmental agencies that allow it to happen. We've been hoping that some journalist somewhere would take an interest in this story, and take it up as a cause.

“It makes a compelling story — the conflict of rural and urban, David and Goliath, tradition and emerging technologies, the sacrifice of one aspect of the environment [an endangered species] for another [climate change],” Barton said. “And all of this fueled by billions in government subsidies. There’s a Pulitzer in there somewhere. We are a group of simple, struggling country farmers and ranchers, fighting huge multinational corporations that intends to spend upwards of $500 million on this project — hardly a fair fight.”


Source: https://texasbusinesscoalit...

MAY 13 2020
http://www.windaction.org/posts/51678-rural-residents-battling-large-corporations-over-planned-wind-farms
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