Library filed under Impact on Wildlife from Texas
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.
Millions of birds funnel through the Texas coast before they head north along the Central Flyway, one of the great bird migration routes between South America and the Arctic. This was the first year that wind farms were operating there during the spring migration. One study near the coastal wind farms in Kenedy County, near the Laguna Madre, found that at the peak of fall migration in 2007, 4,000 birds an hour passed in a 1-kilometer-wide band.
Wind on the Texas coast is tempting for energy companies. Unlike other parts of Texas -- the nation's No. 1 wind energy state -- the coast has breezes that blow consistently on summer days, when energy demand peaks. But there's risk, too. Millions of birds funnel through the Texas coast before they head north along the Central Flyway.
Despite the attraction of wind as a nearly pollution-free power source, a Texas Tech University wildlife ecologist cautions that a tsunami of modern wind turbines dotting the South Plains of Texas could have as yet unknown ecological consequences on criti And there are plenty of playas on the Texas High Plains and in Eastern New Mexico - approximately 22,000, in fact. Indeed, it's the largest concentration in the world. Playas act as natural water storage sites, providing irrigation water and seasonally recharging the Ogallala, the nation's largest aquifer.
US wind farms kill about 7,000 birds a year, according to a recent study. Other studies of individual wind farms suggest a higher toll on bats and birds, which crash into towers, blades, power lines and other installations. Estimates from a single wind farm in Altamont, California showed as many as 1,300 birds of prey killed each year - or about three a day. Such direct threats to wildlife, and concern for habitats, have increasingly pitted conservationists against the renewable energy industry. A handful of wind power projects in the US have been shelved because of wildlife concerns.
The Chestnut-collared Longspur winters in New Mexico and Texas, including parts of the Big Country, before migrating north to breed for the summer. The bird, however, has suffered a steep population decline, as have other species that follow the same migration pattern, according to a recent government report. The federal report says various factors - including energy production of all types, such as wind farms - have contributed to a 40-year decline in the national bird population.
After years of battling environmentalists worried about the mixture of towering windmills and one of the world's busiest migratory bird flyways, Babcock & Brown opened its wind farm on the Kenedy Ranch. The wind farm will sport a bird radar detection system that company officials tout as the first of its kind. The system can automatically stop the blades if the potential for a mass bird kill is detected.
Despite the protests of environmental advocates who spent months trying to halt the projects, two large-scale wind farms in South Texas are now operational. Many of the approximately 250 wind turbines that were expected to dot about 20,000 acres of Kenedy Ranch, north of Raymondville, are up and spinning ...Seeing the turbines starting to spin is worrisome, Kittelberger said. "I think they were built without public input, and built (with developers) knowing they would kill thousands of birds," he said.
A group that wants to slow the rush of wind turbines to the Texas Coast is asking the Federal Aviation Administration to require environmental studies for Texas wind farms. The Coastal Habitat Alliance has filed a petition with the FAA asking for the change in policy. This is the latest in a series of attempts the group has made to fight the emergence of wind farms on the coast, which is a major migratory bird route. The alliance worries about the impact thousands of wind turbines could have on the bird population.
About 140 people got another look at the coming world of wind power Friday. Birds and bats were major topics, but the basic message was that there needs to be more study of the impact of wind farms and turbines. "We're kind of finding our way along with the industry," Kathy Boydston, a biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told the gathering at the Ambassador Hotel in Amarillo. Experts are trying to find ways to deter birds and bats from hitting turbines, but the lack of information on how many fall victim and how it happens is lacking.
One native bird in the area may soon be added to the endangered species list. And it could have a big impact on future wind farm development in the Panhandle. There are only a few lesser prairie chickens left in Texas. And because of huge wind farms proposed in the Panhandle, their population is in limbo. Today at the Panhandle Wind and Wildlife Conference here in Amarillo, wildlife experts discussed the impact wind turbines and wind farms have on animals, both in the air and on the ground.
A federal judge in Austin dismissed a lawsuit that sought to prevent further construction of two Kenedy County wind farm projects. The suit was filed in December by the Coastal Habitat Alliance, a nine-member environmental group that includes King Ranch, claiming the projects would cause irrevocable damage to the environment and birds. The alliance also filed a suit in state court that was dismissed earlier this year. The wind farm projects, by Australian-based Babcock and Brown Ltd. and Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables, formerly PPM Energy, continued with site preparation and initial construction and erection of wind turbines
Wind farms are becoming an increasingly popular way to generate green energy, but little is known about the ecological and socioeconomic effects of the towering windmills that have begun to dot parts of the landscape. What impact do the tall structures have on the birds and bats in the area? How do the wind farms affect local economies and governmental policy? And what do residents living in communities that are home to the farms think? Two Texas A&M University researchers have been tapped to join a study that is trying to determine those answers.
A regional conservation group is pointing out where birds and wind farms might not mix. A Playa Lakes Joint Venture mapping project shows the few remaining acres of habitat for the lesser prairie chicken and where playa lakes can draw large numbers of migrating birds. "There has been a lot of interest from the wind industry, local and state conservation groups and state agencies," said Megan McLachlan, a geographic-information system analyst for the group. "We've gotten a lot of phone calls the last couple of months asking us to share the data. There's a lot of people working on the issue."
With the Panhandle targeted for increased wind power development, many landowners already have signed or are considering signing contracts with energy companies. But questions remain, especially about wildlife. ...The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Taylor and Nolan counties was the single largest wind farm in operation in the nation in 2007, Cearley said. With four of the five largest U.S. wind farms now located in Texas, it is necessary to study the impact on wildlife.