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More wind over wind farms

As we know, the folks at the King Ranch are hot about wind farms. They are now taking their beef to the Lege.

King Ranch Inc., the agricultural holding company that owns the South Texas ranch and other properties, is backing legislation that could choke off the boom in Texas wind energy by requiring new state regulations of wind turbines.

The state does not require permits in most cases for wind farms, which consist of hundreds of enormous turbines that generate electricity.

That would change under House Bill 2794, sponsored by Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio. The bill would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish a permit process to take into account the environmental consequences of wind turbines and whether the noise they create — or just the fact they’re part of a once-unspoiled view — interferes with the property rights of nearby landowners.

King Ranch has been fighting a proposed coastal wind project in Kenedy County, just east of its ranch, that would place 267 turbines along the Gulf’s Laguna Madre.

“People need to take a deep breath and think a little,” Jack Hunt, CEO of King Ranch Inc., said about the Texas wind rush. “It’s a frenzy.”

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the things that Hunt said in the earlier piece I blogged regarding wind farms at the neighboring Kenedy Ranch. Reading through this story, I’m still not impressed.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said opponents of wind energy won’t succeed in the Legislature, either.

“The bill is dead because no one wants to pass it,” said Patterson, who has leased state land for big offshore wind projects to generate more revenue for public education. “This is the King Ranch versus the rest of Texas.”

I spoke to Commissioner Patterson about this story. He was quite emphatic about this being a case of Jack Hunt extending his battle against the Kenedy Ranch, and he accused Hunt of willfully spreading misinformation about wind farms. This is already an ugly fight, and it’s clear to me that it’s going to get worse.

Patterson also said that the TCEQ does not want the responsibility that Puente’s bill would require them to take. Looking at the bill, the checklist for certification is pretty broadly defined, with sure-to-cause-litigation items like considering if “the facility will be located in close proximity to property of an adjacent property owner”. I can’t say I blame them for not wanting to touch that.

Most wind projects get federal and state tax breaks; a federal tax subsidy on production runs through 2008. In addition, Texas wind farms are receiving local school tax breaks totaling about $25 million a year, according to figures from the state comptroller.

Hunt, the King Ranch CEO, said wind turbines are sprouting across Texas without examination of their impact on the environment or nearby property owners.

“No one is looking at the longer-term impact and the value of the entire area” where turbines are placed, Hunt said.

I’ve asked this question before, and I’ve got to assume that someone somewhere has done some research. Are we expecting the TCEQ to fund some studies? If not, what should be done to examine that impact Hunt speaks of?

Of course, wind farms of the type that Hunt objects to are a relatively new phenomenon, so “longer-term impact” is kind of a chameleon – they just haven’t been around long enough to say for sure. On the other hand, coal plants have been around for a long time, and we know what kind of an impact they have. Let’s keep some perspective here.

One other point – though the story doesn’t explicitly mention this, Patterson told me that one of the points Hunt uses against the wind farms is the aforementioned subsidies. He then noted that the King Ranch is the beneficiary of many such subsidies itself, as are most energy-related projects. There’s an inconsistency in attacking wind farms for having them.

FPL Group, a Juno Beach, Fla.-based utility, won the Abilene case. At the time, FPL officials said the 11-1 verdict should send a message to other landowners thinking of suing.

Jurors could consider only whether turbine noise interfered with landowners’ enjoyment of their property.

Dale Rankin, one of the Abilene plaintiffs who owns a ranch and a chemical company in nearby Tuscola, said he’s about one mile away from a stretch of hundreds of turbines. He compares it to living “next to an airport where the jets are running their engines all the time.”

Anybody have any direct experience with these things? Patterson specifically disputed that assertion about the noise. I have no idea myself, so any feedback from those who know better than I would be appreciated.

Patterson said the idea of siting requirements for wind turbines “is not completely outside the realm of good public policy” and is worth studying.

“But this bill isn’t about being reasonable,” he said.

I asked Patterson what he thought a better approach would be. He didn’t have any specific recommendations but suggested instead that there should have been more discussion about Puente’s bill before it came up in committee, where it currently sits pending a public hearing on an unknown-to-me date.

I need to do some more research on wind farms. My general impression of them is favorable – certainly, given a choice between more wind turbines and more coal-fired plants, it’s a no-brainer. Interestingly, this Salon article suggests that in addition to being greener, wind farms can produce energy more cheaply than coal plants if given a level playing field on which to compete. The more I read, the more I’m convinced that we need to be doing more with wind energy. B and B has further thoughts.

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2 Comments

  1. Errwigger says:

    The Salon article was pathetically one sided. Here’s a good reply in the comments.

  2. Errwigger says:

    The Salon article was pathetically one sided. Here’s a good reply in the comments.