From: Reuters
Published October 19, 2007 10:29 AM

Texas coastal wind farms advance despite critics

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Two companies developing more than 600 megawatts of wind generation along the Texas coastline aren't daunted by threats of hurricane damage or opposition from environmentalists and powerful ranching interests, executives said Thursday.

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PPM Energy, a U.S subsidiary of Iberdrola's Scottish Power unit, and Babcock & Brown are developing two wind farms in Kenedy County, a thinly populated county south of Corpus Christi. Both companies expect to produce power by the end of 2008.

The Texas Public Utility Commission on Wednesday blocked a coalition of environmental groups, backed by the powerful King Ranch interests of South Texas, from intervening in a case related to the sitting of a transmission line to move power from the two coastal wind farms to the Texas grid.

The mostly deserted county "is a bull's-eye" for potential wind along the Gulf of Mexico, John Calaway, chief development officer for Babcock & Brown, told the Gulf Coast Power Association in Houston. "The wind blows when we need it. It follows the load beautifully."

Texas leads the nation as the state with the most wind-generated power, but most wind-farm development is occurring in west Texas and the Panhandle where construction has led to congestion along existing transmission paths.

West Texas wind typically blows the strongest at night and during the spring and autumn while Texas electric demand peaks in the afternoon hours in July and August.

Wind along the coast varies little during the year, said Raimund Grube, managing director of business development for PPM Energy. "All the energy is coming from one direction; it makes sitting turbines much easier."

Coastal wind farms won't require costly upgrades to the existing transmission network, but the projects must deal with the threat of hurricane-force wind.

To survive hurricanes, Calaway said Babcock & Brown has developed special construction techniques for foundations to support its turbines while Grube said PPM will use shorter turbine blades which can survive high-wind conditions.

Both coastal and west Texas wind projects "are very viable resources," said John Moore, a director of Navigant Consulting. "The south Texas wind has the profile advantage" of being available when power prices are highest during afternoon peak hours.

Some environmental groups have complained that coastal wind turbines may interfere with migrating birds, but Calaway said radar testing on its property show that most birds fly at least 2,000 feet above the ground, well above spinning turbines.

Even so, Babcock & Brown is developing control systems to allow turbines to be shut when unfavorable weather forces birds to fly at lower altitudes, closer to turbines.

Although Babcock & Brown canceled a lease option to build an offshore wind farm near Kenedy County due to economics, Calaway said offshore wind may work when projects are sited closer to large population centers, such as the East Coast.

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