Coastal wind farms keep moving forward

A wind project under construction along the Texas coast south of Corpus Christi cleared a legal hurdle this week when a federal judge in Austin dismissed a lawsuit seeking to stop the construction.

Shots of construction taken earlier this year by plaintiffs.

The suit was brought by the Coastal Habitat Alliance, a group of organizations including King Ranch and several chapters of the Audubon Society, against General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, wind developers PPM Energy and Babcock & Brown and the Public Utility Commission. They allege state officials violated state laws by building the farms with no environmental review or public comment. We wrote about the fight early on here while our sister paper in San Antonio covered it here.
On one hand the opposition is seen by some as being on the side of nature in a “birds versus blades” battle. The wind farms are along a major migratory bird route and visions of the carnage seen at the Altamont wind projects in California are feared.
But Babcock & Brown officials have described it as “harassment” and an extension of a feud between the King Ranch (with business operations based in Houston) and the Kenedy Ranch.
“Our intention has always been to deliver the benefits of renewable energy while minimizing any impact to the environment,” said Hunter Armistead, head of Babcock & Brown’s North American energy group, in a statement. “We were meticulous in the way we approached the development of this wind farm, which we believe will be used as a model for future wind farms around the country.”
We wrote a little about the promises the wind developers are making to minimize bird deaths, as well as a study that says wind power is among those with the lowest impact on wildlife, along with nuclear power.
Jim Blackburn, a Houston attorney who has worked with the plaintiffs in the case, said it’s too early to say what will happen next. The judge’s written opinion has yet to be released, so “… until we see the written decision, we cannot make any decision regarding appeal,” he said.
Dismissed or not, the suit did force the State of Texas’ hand on one issue — that the state fails to do any review of power generation facilities in the coastal plain, as required under the federal Coastal Management Program that the state receives millions of dollars in funds for each year. The state has argued with the deregulation of the Texas power markets the agency that might have had a say in such matters in the past, the Texas Public Utility Commission — no longer has that authority. So one question is if the state will continue to get that cash.
“Negotiations are ongoing between the state and federal governments over whether this change is a minor or a significant one,” Blackburn said.
Meanwhile, construction of the wind farm continues. Operations are expected to start up before the end of the year.