Migrating birds safe from wind farm — for now

05/31/2014 12:00 AM

05/30/2014 7:46 PM

Millions of migratory birds that pass over south Texas each year caught a break last month when Baryonyx Corporation withdrew its permit applications for the GOWind offshore wind farm project in the Lower Laguna Madre region.

Baryonyx, a renewable energy company with projects in the Texas panhandle, north central Texas and along the south Texas coast, had been pursuing the approval of its permit application from the United States Army Corps of Engineers to install up to 303 wind turbines offshore of South Padre Island.

South Texas is one of the busiest migratory superhighways in the world, with millions of long-distance avian travelers in the fall trekking from the arctic in Canada, Alaska and western Russia, down throughout Central and South America, and back again in the spring.

The Laguna Madre is one of only six hyper-saline bays in the world, and it supports crucial habitat for more than 300 species of birds and their food supply.

Within the last several years, extensive wind farms have been developed on private lands just inland of the Laguna Madre. An off-shore wind farm in this region would sandwich some of the most critical migratory and wintering shorebird, waterfowl and colonial water bird habitat in the world between two wind farms, causing mortality, disturbance and displacement to millions of birds and destroying pristine and protected habitat with transmission infrastructure.

These cumulative effects could have broad-reaching ecological impacts.

Early claims in the environmental assessment of the GOWind project stated that migrating birds would be flying at high altitudes that would take them over the turbines and their deadly blades.

Recent studies conducted inland in the same region have indicated that these migrants are actually flying at much lower altitudes and will be traveling directly in the path of the turbines.

Clearly more scientific investigation into the actual flight paths of migratory birds is needed.

Additionally, research into the potential disturbance of foraging habitat and disruption of foraging behavior for migratory and wintering birds by the close proximity to wind farm/transmission infrastructure is required to truly understand the impact of these structures on these native habitats and their inhabitants.

Audubon is committed to advancing these independent and objective research projects to help inform responsible wind farm siting on the Texas coast to minimize harmful impacts on native wildlife.

Finally, Audubon strongly calls for the continued advancement in wind turbine design and technology.

Audubon encourages both public and private organizations to support the advancement of renewable energy technology by addressing turbine design, which still looks like a giant version of the windmill on your grandfather’s farm, as well as strike detection equipment, blade graphics and high-risk or seasonal shutdown capability.

These advancements could dramatically mitigate impacts on birds and wildlife.

The temporary relief migratory birds have been granted from this potential threat is appreciated, but it will not be the last permit application Texas sees for offshore wind farms.

This momentary reprieve should be embraced as an opportunity to deliver more science and research around responsible energy development and siting of these facilities.

As a fifth-generation Texan, I am proud Texas is a national leader in renewable and green energy production, but I do not want to see it be done haphazardly and at the expense of our natural heritage.

Brian Trusty is Executive Director of Audubon Texas and vice president of the National Audubon Society. jpearson@audubon.org

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