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Energy farm along coast starting to harvest wind

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.

SARITA - Wind power, long a staple on the gusty plains of West Texas, officially made its mark on the Gulf Coast on Wednesday.

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. Crews currently are running 16 windmills to test the system, but in a month all 118, each standing as high as a 40-story building, should be producing power. The total 283 megawatts will be enough to power 80,000 homes.

"People don't think of Texas when you're talking about the granola, green, renewable crowd," said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at the opening of the wind farm. "But this is just energy. We are in the energy business."

Babcock & Brown's $700 million wind farm is one of two in sparsely populated Kenedy County. The other, owned by the Spanish company Iberdrola, is adjacent to Babcock &... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

SARITA - Wind power, long a staple on the gusty plains of West Texas, officially made its mark on the Gulf Coast on Wednesday.

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. Crews currently are running 16 windmills to test the system, but in a month all 118, each standing as high as a 40-story building, should be producing power. The total 283 megawatts will be enough to power 80,000 homes.

"People don't think of Texas when you're talking about the granola, green, renewable crowd," said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at the opening of the wind farm. "But this is just energy. We are in the energy business."

Babcock & Brown's $700 million wind farm is one of two in sparsely populated Kenedy County. The other, owned by the Spanish company Iberdrola, is adjacent to Babcock & Brown's.

It's also in the process of cranking up its wind turbines, and both plan to expand later this year. When Babcock & Brown adds 200 megawatts and Iberdrola completes its expansion, the farms' combined 900 megawatts will create the largest concentration of wind power in the world, said Babcock & Brown's John Calaway.

Wind power long has been a favorite of many environmentalists because it produces energy without producing air pollution or the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. And Texas easily leads the nation in wind power production with as much as 9,000 megawatts.

But the Kenedy County projects, which are the first wind farms on the Texas Coast, have produced mixed feelings in the environmental community and driven a wedge between the Kenedy Ranch and its neighbor, the iconic King Ranch.

That's because the Texas Coast is an important migratory bird route and home to thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands.

In response, several bird advocacy organizations and the King Ranch formed the Coastal Habitat Alliance to fight the wind farms.

The group is petitioning the Federal Aviation Administration to require environmental studies, but it already has failed in its attempts in federal court, the Public Utility Commission and in the state's administrative court

Calaway, who described the often-bitter battle as "a pretty bloody tough situation," said Babcock & Brown has gone above and beyond to protect the environment. The windmills and the roads on the wind farm have been built to avoid the wetlands, he said. And radar crews plotted the flights of birds in the area for three years before determining that most flew far higher than the windmill blades, which reach 419 feet off the ground.

The radar and shutdown system is a precaution against the unlikely event of a weather system forcing birds down into the blades, Calaway said.

"This project is going to set the example for environmental stewardship," he said.

Killing a migrating bird is illegal, according to the international Migratory Bird Treaty Act, said Dawn Whitehead of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Corpus Christi office. And although her office can take action if birds are killed, because the project is on private property, it can't stop the project or require environmental analysis.

Whitehead said her biologists have been to the property a "couple of times" since 2005 and have reviewed wildlife reports produced by Babcock & Brown's consultants. She also is trying to formalize an agreement to regularly review the wind farm's bird monitoring data and create an avian and bird protection plan.

"At first blush it would seem a risky project," Whitehead said. "But they really did a lot of work, so we'll just have to wait and see."

Most of the state's wind power is produced in West Texas, which generally is windier than the coast. But Calaway said the coastal wind, particularly that between Corpus Christi and the Mexican border, has the advantage of blowing in the afternoon, when the power is most needed. West Texas wind generally blows at night.

The coast also is attractive for wind farms because, unlike West Texas, there's also transmission capacity on the coast to move the power. The state has approved a $5 billion transmission project to eventually alleviate the bottleneck in West Texas.

This combination of factors has created interest in more coastal wind projects, said several people in the industry. E.ON Climate & Renewables has announced plans to build a wind farm in San Patricio County and has an agreement to sell the power to San Antonio's CPS Energy, which also is buying power from the Iberdrola farm in Kenedy County.

Companies have contacted the Electric Reliability Council of Texas about the possibility of building wind farms on the coast capable of producing thousands of megawatts of power, said Mike Sloan of Austin's Virtus Energy, a renewable energy consulting firm. But many of these are likely to never make it out of the planning stages.

"You've got a lot of people looking on the coast," he said. "But there might be environmental issues that knock some of those projects out."


Source: http://www.mysanantonio.com...

JAN 8 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/18578-energy-farm-along-coast-starting-to-harvest-wind
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