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Huge offshore wind farm OK’d in bird area

Texas on Thursday approved construction of the nation's largest offshore wind farm, which will be located off the Padre Island National Seashore and within a critical migratory bird flyway.
Birds like these are a common feature at the Padre Island National Seashore, part of which will sit near an offshore wind farm approved Thursday.
Birds like these are a common feature at the Padre Island National Seashore, part of which will sit near an offshore wind farm approved Thursday.U.S. Geological Survey
/ Source: The Associated Press

The nation's largest offshore wind farm will be built off the Padre Island National Seashore in South Texas, a critical migratory bird flyway, Texas land commissioner Jerry Patterson said Thursday.

Patterson lauded what he said would be an 40,000-acre span of turbines about 400 feet tall able to generate energy to power 125,000 homes.

"The wind rush is on," Patterson said. "We want to be number one. We want to attract the businesses that build the turbines, that build the blades. ... We want to be the leader in the United States, if not the world."

Superior Renewable Energy Inc., based in Houston, would build the farm and pay the estimated $1 billion to $2 billion construction costs.

Migratory path
But some environmentalists say the promise of clean energy may not be worth the deaths of countless birds of rare species that migrate through the area each year on their way to and from winter grounds in Mexico and Central America.

"You probably couldn't pick a worse location, unless you're trying to settle the issue as to how damaging they are to migratory birds," said Walter Kittelberger, chairman of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation. Laguna Madre is the strip of water between the mainland and Padre Island.

The offshore farm is the second Patterson has announced in less than a year for the Texas coast, with 50 wind turbines planned off Galveston.

But the one announced Thursday would be the largest in the nation, with up to 170 turbines looming off Texas ranch land spinning up to 500 megawatts of electricity.

The Stateline Wind Energy Center on the Oregon-Washington border is currently the nation's largest wind farm, producing 300 megawatts of electricity. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. produces 9,149 megawatts of wind power, enough to power 2.3 million homes annually. President Bush has said wind energy could produce 20 percent of the nation's electricity.

The Texas announcement comes amid a bitter fight over a proposed 130-turbine wind farm off Cape Cod, Mass., where the residents fear the turbines will be unsightly.

A congressional panel in April approved a measure allowing Gov. Mitt Romney to veto the project. Cape Wind Associates, the developer, has promised to fight the provision.

‘Nobody there to look at it’
In Texas, the state controls waters up to 10.3 miles off the coast and can make quick deals with developers, Patterson said. He said this project would be located off a remote, unpopulated part of Padre Island National Seashore.

"Those who are concerned about view sheds shouldn't have a problem," he said. "There's nobody there to look at it."

Electricity generated would have to be carried about 30 miles from the wind farm to the nearest power grid. The company has been negotiating with private landowners and ranchers to run the lines to the grid.

John Calaway, Superior's chief executive officer, said the company would do everything possible to mitigate impact to migrating birds.

"Of course there's going to be some mortality, but we don't think it will be significant," he said.

Jerome Collins of the Sierra Club Lone Star chapter said the prospect of clean wind energy was exciting, and that his and other groups hoped to work with wind farm owners to prevent both bird deaths and scenic damage.

"We're highly in favor of wind energy but we also want to protect the scenic beauty and the wildlife and the water quality and everything else," he said.