Developers say farm would benefit S. Texas

Georgia Wingate Thompson, Kleberg County Correspondent

KINGSVILLE - When the Kingsville City Commission members recently listened to a presentation by an expert for wind power development in adjoining Kenedy County, they learned the project is already blowing benefits into the city and county as well.

Marc Cisneros, Chief Operating Officer of the Kenedy Foundation, a Catholic Charity foundation, also addressed the commission members during the Jan. 14 meeting and said the wind farm project would help fund the Kenedy Foundation Trust.

"The area south of San Antonio is the poorest and least educated in the nation and our goal is to bring about improvement of life," Cisneros said. "Will this (project) change unemployment completely? No. But it has got to be a beginning."

He asked the commission members to consider the human dimension of the project is important and said the foundation had given more than $220 million in grants to Texas, mostly in South Texas.

"You should be informed and I hope you'll be willing to pass a resolution for or against this," Cisneros said. "This is such an important issue down here whether the project goes or it doesn't it will have a significant effect."

John Calaway, Chief Development Officer of Babcock and Brown, third largest wind farm developers in the world with 19 wind projects to its credit, said the company had been looking at the area's potential for four and a half years, had gotten the approval of the Kenedy County Commissioners four years ago and are committed to being part of the community for a long time.

"This first phase will bring in 250 to 300 jobs for construction and then 15 to 20 permanent high paying jobs," said Calaway of the $800 million project. "If I were any service business I'd want these wind farms here because of the close proximity to the project."

He said all of the areas restaurants, hotels and service-related industry would be impacted.

He said weather maps of the Coastal Bend area from Houston to Brownsville of the last 40 years had been studied and that it was surprising to see how specific the target was for the Kenedy Ranch area. Calaway said older government mapping had misinterpreted the data of the wind speed being minimal at higher levels.

"You've got a God-given resource all over this area," Calaway said. "The wind here blows highest when the demand is highest."

He noted that West Texas (site of other wind farms) is just the opposite with the peak wind times at night and during cooler months.

The area leased for the two stage project covers 9,637 acres with the wind turbine project using 7,851 of those acres. He said the physical acres used for the wind farm is less than 300.

Phase 1 of the $8 million project will include 118 monopole turbines each with the capacity of 2.4 megawatts of power. He said that the Corps of Engineers have given approval for 157 wind turbines in the area.

"There have been some naysayers to the project and we all know who they are," Calaway said. "There has been misrepresentation by the King Ranch in the press."

He noted the distance from the Laguna Madre is five miles and not on it, as had been reported; the wind farm will be 8.1 miles from the Gulf of Mexico; a distance of 5.2 miles from the King Ranch property line; 6.9 miles to the Armstrong Ranch property line and 12.5 miles to U.S. Highway 77.

"The information by the King Ranch is a travesty," Calaway said.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for this area. This project will affect the real people of South Texas, not the ones who fly-in in their Leer jet to hunt."

The proposed AEP transmission line would run on Kenedy Ranch Foundation and Kenedy Ranch Trust land to the existing transmission line on the east side of U.S. 77, according to a map in Calaway's presentation.

"The area is in the middle of a field with oil and gas and 99 percent bone dry," Calaway said.

"We use zero percent water consumption and I know in South Texas that fresh water is an issue."

Callaway noted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted two site visits and had been consulted using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology for topographic data and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife had conducted two site visits. The turbine site will be placed away from sensitive habitat, has been designed to avoid wetlands and there are no endangered species involved.

"There is not a single report in America to support that the slow spin monopole design is a massive bird killer, but an occasional bird dives into one," Calaway said.

"We did three intense radar studies on birds migrating in the area and found the vast majority would fly above the turbines in the central fly way."

He said the turbines would have a radar system that would shut them down within one minute when birds come in mass, get tired and drop from the sky.

"We aren't required to do this but feel it is the right thing to do because we want to be an environmental model," Calaway said. "Babcock and Brown has followed the law to a T."

Currently road upgrades to the site are under construction and Calaway said he hopes the first of the 118 wind turbines are up and running by the end of this year.

Kingsville Mayor Sam Fugate noted that the city is already feeling the economic impact of the workers here hauling the 250 loads of caliche a day being used for road upgrades.

Fugate noted that the King Ranch had also been invited to make a presentation to the city commissioners regarding the wind farm.