Articles filed under Impact on Landscape from Texas
For now, wind power's triumphant march in the U.S. can count on another legal smackdown of "NIMBYism," after a Texas appeals court yesterday dismissed a suit by landowners upset with a big wind farm built by FPL Energy. Landowners decried the turbines' noise and their spoiled sunsets-which the court agreed was a pity-but the appeals court couldn't find grounds to rule against the power company. ...Congress is meant to reconvene next month for yet another attempt at renewing clean-energy tax credits. But does it have any recipe to make clean energy more appealing to the folks who hate it?
Before the 2006 trial, the judge wouldn't let plaintiffs argue that the towering turbines were a nuisance based on their blinking lights or how they looked. After the two-week trial in which noise levels and land values were discussed, jurors ruled in favor of FPL Energy. In a ruling issued Thursday, the 11th Court of Appeals said the trial judge did not err because Texas law "does not provide a nuisance action for aesthetical impact." But the appeals court seemed sympathetic to landowners.
Folks in several nearby towns, about 100 miles southwest of Dallas, are fighting to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to them. ...They say the companies are swooping in -- even into areas that aren't as windy -- because federal tax credits for wind developers expire at year's end unless Congress extends the subsidy. Opponents also are holding meetings and erecting yard signs protesting turbines, disputing that wind energy works at all. ...They say that unreliability isn't worth sacrificing their scenic vistas and high property values.
It is clear the majority of commissioners court is in favor of allowing the wind farm to go up in northern Young County. From a government perspective, the choice is easy. By agreeing to waive some of the property tax for 10 years, commissioners will see the income to the county rise by between $200,000 and $400,000 each year. ...While wind farms are often beneficial to property owners who lease their land, they are frequently hated by other land owners. The bottom line is putting 40 or 50 wind generators up in Young County will drastically change the scenic view many people have become accustomed to. If you want an example of what you may see, just drive down Highway 16 South toward Possum Kingdom Lake and look at the windmills sitting south of Bryson.
Following a July 17 selection by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, Gillespie County will be one of many counties in the state that will see new power lines in the next four to five years that will carry electricity from wind farms in West Texas and the Panhandle regions to the more metropolitan areas in Central and East Texas.
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."
A federal court judge said Tuesday he needs time to sort through a complicated legal challenge brought by the King Ranch and several environmental groups that want to stop a massive wind farm near the South Texas Gulf Coast. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel will have to decide if a mid-1990s federal Coastal Zone Management Act requires the state to conduct public hearings before a wind farm can be approved - if it affects private property and if the environmental groups have a right to sue. ...Lawyers for the wind farm developers said wind farms are not like electric utilities, which are subject to regulation.
Nearly all of some 175 landowners raised their hands during a meeting here Friday when a West Texas lawmaker asked how many wanted legislators to oppose billionaire T. Boone Pickens' efforts to obtain rights of way for water pipeline and electricity transmission lines. The lines would also pass through parts of Archer, Hardeman, Jack, Wichita and Wilbarger counties. A similar meeting has been scheduled Thursday in Holliday. One landowner shouted "Do it," during the show of hands urging lawmakers fight Pickens' attempts to obtain rights of way to build the world's largest wind farm and to ship water from the Panhandle to thirsty areas downstate. No one - not even Pickens' representatives - raised their hands when state Sen. Bob Duncan asked who wanted lawmakers to support the projects.
Two wind farms, part of a $2 billion project, have been proposed near Hebbronville, just east of Laredo. Corpus Christi-based American Shoreline and its partner, San Diego, Calif.-based Eviva Spinnaker, plan to develop the 800-megawatt wind project. It calls for 400 turbines about 350 feet tall spread out over 35,000 acres in Jim Hogg, Webb and Zapata counties. The electricity that would be generated from the two wind farms would power about 220,000 homes. The project recently was announced and has not received vocal opposition. But if vocal opposition toward two Kenedy County wind projects is any indication, there soon will be. Kenedy County is about 100 miles south of Corpus Christi.
If anyone wants to see what these windmills can do to ruin a beautiful view, try taking a quick trip up IH-20 and Highway 84 between Sweetwater and Snyder. That used to be the highlight of my drive from Dallas to Lubbock, to see the beautiful ridges and hills off to the southwest. It has now been ruined with hundreds of massive windmills. ...I would hate to see it ruined because a few folks see a way to make a little money for a few years.
Florida Power & Light Co. -- with 1,600 wind turbines the largest wind-power generator in Texas -- is considering putting power transmission lines through the heart of the prairie to bring environmentally friendly wind-generated power to Fort Worth and Dallas. Doing so would supply 2,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity -- enough to power 500,000 homes -- reducing the amount of electricity needed from coal-fired plants and thus cutting emissions that contribute to ozone pollution and global warming. The possibility of 130-foot-high transmission lines cutting through the prairie, however, complicates local efforts to purchase and preserve it. The state's General Land Office, which bought the property as an investment for $21 million in 2005 and is considering whether to sell it to a private developer, has given local leaders time to raise the money to purchase the property.
Four speakers took turns explaining adverse consequences of life with wind farms Tuesday at a Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon that focused on the downside of turbines. ...Burns said through six generations, his family has endured drought, declining economic farm conditions and other adversities, but they've always known that "if you work hard, you can tough it out. The land restores you. The land's beauty is its primary value, but all of the property in Brown County is being threatened. Someone else will make the decisions about our land, and it can never be reversed if (the decisions) are wrong." Brown County resident Dr. John Dunn said county government can't prevent wind turbines from being placed on property where owners allow it, but it can choose not to allow tax abatements to encourage their placement.
Wind energy has become a hot-button issue in Brown County since the Roadrunner Windfarm was proposed last year by Renewable Energy Systems Inc. The proposed $450 million project will involve Brown, Comanche and Mills counties and include 150 turbines. Only 15-20 are expected to be located in southeast Brown County, and construction could begin in 2009. Comanche and Mills counties have approved tax abatement agreements with RES, but Brown County commissioners have yet to approve the request. ... Burns said the taxpayers will bear the burden of the turbines if the industry dries up and blows away. "The legions of losers are the taxpayers," Burns continued. "This is the most important decision Brown County will ever make. Let's tell Germany and England: Don't mess with Brown County."
The wind blowing through Gillespie County won't be used to generate power anytime soon, that is if Robert Weatherford has his way. Weatherford is president of Save Our Scenic Hill Country, a group committed to keeping wind farms out of the Texas Hill Country. "We think that it would significantly impact the scenic beauty of this area," Weatherford said. One of the areas being considered by energy companies for wind farming was the hills north of Fredericksburg, near Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Now local governments are making their opposition to the giant wind turbines known.
But what happens when a good idea is put in the wrong place? "You've gotta look at the ecological setting. And some settings are wrong for it," said Jim Blackburn, a Houston-based environmental lawyer working for the Coastal Habitat Alliance, CHA. Projects by two companies now underway would put 600 wind turbines about 400 feet tall along the South Texas coast. That's where millions of migratory birds must pass through to fly south for the winter. "It's a world-class worst site," said Blackburn. CHA and other coastal environmental groups say the blades will kill the birds, and project threatens valuable Texas wetlands. But the companies behind the wind farms don't need any state permits to build.
NRG Energy -- the second energy company to have shown interest over the past year in developing a wind generation operation in Gillespie County -- has now decided to discontinue its efforts here. “While we have not yet made any decisions on where to locate additional wind farms, the site we were exploring in Gillespie County is no longer being considered,” David B. Knox, communications manager for NRG in Houston, told the Standard-Radio Post yesterday afternoon in a phone interview. Knox added that the company’s initial review of environmental and economic data showed more promising sites for locating an energy-efficient wind farm elsewhere in the state. ...Word of NRG’s decision initially came Nov. 30 in a phone conversation between an NRG officer and District 24 State Sen. Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay who said the developer stated that there is some question about there being enough wind capacity in Gillespie County to make a wind generating facility here feasible. ...Greg Snelgrove, executive director of the Gillespie County Economic Development Commission, said Monday that, while he, too, is pleased with NRG’s decision, “we’ve got to be ever-vigilant” in working to discourage other alternative power companies from initiating industrial wind farm interests here.
The dispute over construction of two wind farms adjacent to the famed King Ranch in south Texas entered the courts Tuesday when an alliance of conservation and related groups filed lawsuits to stop the projects. The Coastal Habitat Alliance, which includes King Ranch, filed separate lawsuits in state and federal court in Austin. The federal lawsuit claims the state has not done a thorough analysis of the impact the farms and their massive turbines will have on wetlands, habitat, endangered species and migratory birds. It seeks a declaratory judgment and, if needed, an injunction against the developers, whose combined initial investments are expected to top $1 billion. The state lawsuit claims the Texas Public Utility Commission illegally denied the alliance a chance to intervene in the PUC's hearings on transmission lines for the wind farms. ...But the alliance claims that because Texas receives federal funds to help protect the coastal region through the Coastal Zone Management Act, a thorough environmental review of the wind projects is required.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and windmills are no exception. One windmill is taller than the Statue of Liberty. Its huge turbine is longer than an 18-wheeler, and each one can generate enough power for more than 500 homes. From the air you can see them on almost every mesa, stretching for miles. ..."I'm offended that my neighbor would sell himself for money and not care what it did to me," Dale Rankin said. "I'm all for people making money. I'm all for people making a profit, having an income, but I think you need to be considerate of your neighbors when you're in that pursuit."
...wind power has attracted an impressive array of critics. Scientists question wind power's efficiency as a consistent power source. Number crunchers point out that without subsidies, wind power is a prohibitive energy source. Biologists, birders, and hunters cite the deadly effect of these huge turbines on migrating and permanent populations of birds and bats as well as the destruction of crucial habitat in order to service the elaborate infrastructure. The technology is so new, and the pressure to create clean energy so intense, there has been little regulatory oversight of the industry nationally, and organizations traditionally thought to oppose such habitat degeneration, such as the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society, have voiced their support for wind energy.
County leaders are working with state legislators to change the way wind farms are regulated in Texas. Robert Weatherford is the president of Save Our Scenic Hill Country, a group of land owners working to keep wind farms out of the area. "You will literally be able to see them for miles. So we do think that it would destroy the scenic beauty of the Texas hill country," Weatherford said. ...Gillespie County is worried that would mean less visitors like Jones. "That's why people come to these places, is to see the view," Jones said.