February 27, 2007
King versus Kenedy over wind farms

Sad to see the two big iconic Texas ranches locked in such combat over wind turbines, but that's the 21st century for you, I suppose. Based on what I now know, I'd have to award the debate so far to the Kenedys on points.

"(King Ranch Chief Executive) Jack Hunt goes around telling lies and misquoting information and has no technical skill whatsoever, trying to mislead the public that wind energy doesn't exist and doesn't add any value, doesn't produce much and is a tax debacle," said John Calaway, whose company plans to build 157 turbines on a plot now owned by the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation.


Hunt says Sarita Kenedy East, who until her death in 1961 was the last surviving descendant of ranch founder Mifflin Kenedy, would disapprove.

"People who knew Mrs. Kenedy said she'd be spinning in her grave if she knew these lands were being used for this purpose," said Hunt. "I don't think this use is consistent with what the Kenedys had in mind. This area is important environmentally -- it's been called 'the last great habitat.' The King Ranch family feels very strongly about stewardship."


Marc Cisneros, a retired Army general who heads the Kenedy Memorial Foundation, rejects Hunt's claim that he and the trust are willing to sacrifice the unique South Texas environment for a quick payday from wind speculators.

"We at the Kenedy Foundation do not take a back seat to the King Ranch or anyone else in concern for wildlife," said Cisneros from his 17th-floor office in downtown Corpus Christi, adding that "what wildlife worries about is someone shooting at them," a swipe at the King Ranch's prominence as a hunting destination.

"We looked at (the wind proposal) very carefully. We were very cognizant of conserving wildlife. We have quantitative data that show it's not an issue."

That data is constantly flowing into Calaway's offices at Continental Center. A diesel-powered radar site, which sits on the lonesome Jaboncillos Pasture somewhere between U.S. 77 and the coast, has been taking continuous sweeps of the airspace since September, tracking every bird to see if dozens of spinning rotors would pose a threat.

"We're not seeing the 'river of birds' that Jack Hunt talks about," said Calaway, who holds research predicting minimal impact to bird populations. Plus, he said, the turbines practically stop on a dime if a major influx of birds does pour into the area.

Hunt admits he doesn't know whether the turbines will whack a single bird. His problem is that there's no regulation of building land-mounted turbines in rural areas, so no government body will vet the project.

And Hunt won't merely take wind operators at their word.

"We haven't seen any of that bird data," he said. "It's not peer-reviewed. How can you trust it when basically it's been done by the people they've hired to do it? ... If I wanted to build a feedlot down there, I'd have to have all kinds of permits."

The issue has been a struggle for bird advocates such as the Audubon Society, which also supports clean energy.

"On balance, Audubon strongly supports wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming," Audubon President John Flicker wrote in December, outlining the organization's position."Location, however, is important."

It's certainly possible that the Kenedy folks have oversold their commitment to bird safety, and I don't doubt for a minute that there's insufficient oversight - for crying out loud, this is Texas; we don't have sufficient oversight for any-damn-thing - but Mr. Hunt has not made his case, as far as I can tell. I may see it differently down the line, but for now, I'm rooting for the Kenedys.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 27, 2007 to Technology, science, and math

The main spring bird migration is in March/April, so to say that they have been monitoring since Sept and haven't seen a 'river of birds' is a bit like saying they haven't noticed any rush hour traffic all night. It may be fine, but wait until the critical period has been observed.

Posted by: George on February 27, 2007 8:14 AM