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500,000 acre wind farm off Galveston (and another off Port Arthur)


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I'm of two minds with wind farms.  I like greener energy.  But I hate that wind farms kill millions of birds each year.  And putting them in the water just hides the carnage.

The problem is the alternative is burning dinosaurs, which is no longer a great idea.  So I don't know what the solution is.

Here's a map from today's Chronicle:

Image 7-22-22 at 9.31 AM.jpg

 

Sorry I don't have a link to the story, because I get my Chron in dead tree form.   Here's a few lines:

Quote

The proposed “wind energy area” covers 546,645 acres — larger than the city of Houston — and could produce enough electricity to power about 2.3 million homes, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said.

A second proposal about 64 miles off the coast of Lake Charles, La., would cover 188,023 acres and could produce power for 799,000 homes, officials said.

 

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According to the Audubon Society, fewer birds currently die per year to wind turbines than either building collisions or domesticated cats.

Now obviously as you add turbines you also add to those numbers, so it's a totally legitimate concern.

There are ways to site these projects to minimize their impacts to birds and keep them out of migration routes. That review will be/was part of the environmental review of the project, though of course it's not perfect.  

There have also been some successful experiments with using acoustic deterrents to keep birds away from turbines. That seems like a particularly good option out in the Gulf. 

 

Plus I believe these are far enough off shore that the distance itself will help minimize any negative impacts on birds. Even during migration, birds are unlikely (as I understand it) to go *that* far out over open water where they can't land or potentially find food. But hopefully some birdologists can chime in on that.

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42 minutes ago, Texasota said:

There have also been some successful experiments with using acoustic deterrents to keep birds away from turbines. That seems like a particularly good option out in the Gulf. 

That seems promising.  Hopefully it works.  In California, there's at least one turbine installation where there are several full-time employees who just watch for endangered species (condors, I think) and shut down the turbines until they pass.  That's obviously impractical in the Gulf.

As I understand it, there are no successful studies on bird strikes at turbine locations in the sea, because at-sea turbines are still newish, and the whole problem of the corpses dropping into the ocean.

44 minutes ago, Texasota said:

Plus I believe these are far enough off shore that the distance itself will help minimize any negative impacts on birds. Even during migration, birds are unlikely (as I understand it) to go *that* far out over open water where they can't land or potentially find food. But hopefully some birdologists can chime in on that.

I'm not a bird expert, just a very amateur enthusiast.  But my memory tells me that I have read in the past that, yes, some species do migrate straight over the Gulf to and from the Yucatan.  I probably saw it while researching hummingbirds, because that was a particular area of fascination for me for a while.

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If you care about bird conservation, you should be 1,000 times more concerned about habitat loss than windmills.  And there is a significant amount of habitat loss that is due to climate change.  

Oil and gas waste pits are actually a bigger threat to birds than windmills.  That is why Trump suspended enforcement of the migratory bird treaty at the behest of the oil and gas industry.  Get rid of fossil fuels with windmills and you may have a net positive when it comes to bird deaths.

Houston is a choke point for several flyways for spring migration.  Not so much in the fall.  But when birds migrate, they like to find good strong winds aloft to ride like a conveyor belt across the ocean.  Most birds during migration do not get any lower than 150m and most are up several hundred meters to a few thousand.  Most of the time, birds will be way above the windmills during migration.  

There is some preliminary research that showed some success painting wind turbines black.  Birds strike the blades because they have a hard time seeing them when they are moving fast.  Painting blade black seem to help the birds see the blades and reduce strikes.  

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, Texasota said:

Hmmm, I'd like to see a close up of that migration chart, but it definitely looks like there a substantial area off the Texas coast that's devoid of migration paths. 

Those routes are just for the two species listed.  There are thousands of migratory species.

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3 hours ago, s3mh said:

If you care about bird conservation, you should be 1,000 times more concerned about habitat loss than windmills.  And there is a significant amount of habitat loss that is due to climate change.

Way ahead of you.  I have given to charities that buy up industrial land and return it to nature.  At the time, it was for a different critter, because I wasn't interested in birds back then.  But it's the type of land and location that birds will enjoy, too.

When I decided to move back to Houston, I was really looking forward to seeing all the birds.  There used to be great flocks of birds all over the place, all year 'round.  Now, I'm lucky if I see a small flock of sparrows or grackles every now and then.  And downtown can't even support a meager pigeon population. 

It's not strictly a Houston thing, I've read that up to 80% of the world's birds have died in my lifetime.

In the Houston area, though, you're right — it's probably mostly habitat destruction.

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I have some work experience in this area. Often companies will shut down turbines when migrations are passing through (it’s typically well documented when this is happening, you can even see them on weather radar there are so many). Also there are capabilities to have camera recognition of birds in the vicinity and automatically shut down turbines. This is used a lot to reduce eagle strikes as it is random and typically only a single bird. Sonic deterrents (as mentioned above) are also used in some situations. Wind companies have a lot of experience with endangered bat species as well, voluntarily stopping turbines during summer nights when they are flying. 
 

Suffice to say, bird strikes are a lot less of an issue than some like to make it out to be. 

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Thank for bringing your first-hand experience to the discussion.  It's good to know that there is more being done in this arena than I was aware of.

On 7/22/2022 at 10:45 PM, sapo2367 said:

bird strikes are a lot less of an issue than some like to make it out to be. 

As for bird strikes not being a big deal, I have to disagree.  I think it's a bigger problem than people realize for three reasons:

  • There really isn't much data on the cumulative effect of bird strikes, especially at sea.
  • We're only going to get more wind turbines, not fewer, which to my logic means greater chance for bird strikes, not fewer.
  • Mathematically, as the population of birds dwindles, the problem becomes more urgent.  If you kill x birds per year, you reduce the total population of birds to be potentially killed by x.  So as each year passes, the percentage of the bird population killed increases faster and faster. 

Still, you know a lot more about this topic than I do, so any other insight you have is appreciated.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I would think the birds will less likely to strike a tower over the open water than on land since they are only flying across the Gulf and not stopping to roost for the night as they would while traversing land.

What concerns me:  Hurricanes.

I realize they can engineer these structures to withstand specific conditions, but they (engineers) do the same for the Gulf oil rigs and those are still largely at the mercy of storms.

Given our continued growth in this state, lack of other new power solutions being built at a fast enough pace to keep up with our growth we must build new energy sources.  This will help to alleviate some of the strain on the ERCOT grid, but I’ll wager by the time it’s completely up and running those 2 million households will have been built statewide.

Isn’t the Port Arthur site (which is much smaller) the alternative option?

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2 hours ago, arche_757 said:

I would think the birds will less likely to strike a tower over the open water than on land since they are only flying across the Gulf and not stopping to roost for the night as they would while traversing land.

What concerns me:  Hurricanes.

I realize they can engineer these structures to withstand specific conditions, but they (engineers) do the same for the Gulf oil rigs and those are still largely at the mercy of storms.

Given our continued growth in this state, lack of other new power solutions being built at a fast enough pace to keep up with our growth we must build new energy sources.  This will help to alleviate some of the strain on the ERCOT grid, but I’ll wager by the time it’s completely up and running those 2 million households will have been built statewide.

Isn’t the Port Arthur site (which is much smaller) the alternative option?

Windmills don't have the same surface area for wind to act on as oil and gas platforms. There are a large number of windmills being installed in the North Sea, where sea and wind conditions on a good day are pretty challenging, and in winter can be pretty horrific - 40 foot waves and 80mph+ winds for extended periods.

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That’s a great point @Ross.  I completely forgot about the systems in place/being installed in the North Sea.  Windmills are, by their very nature designed to “capture” the energy of the wind (which I know you’re quite aware of this fact-so bear with me), so in that respect I would think there is some concern about survivability during any big storm.

I’ve no doubt that the design engineers will be sure to account for potential wind speeds in excess of 140mph+

While we seldom see those sort of sustained winds or gusts on land, take note of any number of hurricanes that have made landfall over the last decade+ and how they’ve rapidly intensified, then wind speed has downgraded closer to land.  So the windmills will need to sustain a higher wind than just about anything on land, and in particular because access to them for major repairs would be quite difficult I’d expect.

Edited by arche_757
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4 hours ago, arche_757 said:

That’s a great point @Ross.  I completely forgot about the systems in place/being installed in the North Sea.  Windmills are, by their very nature designed to “capture” the energy of the wind (which I know you’re quite aware of this fact-so bear with me), so in that respect I would think there is some concern about survivability during any big storm.

I’ve no doubt that the design engineers will be sure to account for potential wind speeds in excess of 140mph+

While we seldom see those sort of sustained winds or gusts on land, take note of any number of hurricanes that have made landfall over the last decade+ and how they’ve rapidly intensified, then wind speed has downgraded closer to land.  So the windmills will need to sustain a higher wind than just about anything on land, and in particular because access to them for major repairs would be quite difficult I’d expect.

Here's one video on building offshore windmills 

 

Here's a search result list for a bunch of them https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=north+sea+windmills

It would behoove us to pay attention to the North Sea projects. They've been building oil and gas platforms there for decades and windmill projects for a while. They are good at that stuff. 

 

When the wind is blowing at hurricane speeds, the blades will be feathered and won't spin, so the wind shouldn't have as much effect.

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@Ross good stuff.  Thanks for the information.
 

Personally I hope they do build this.  I’m a big proponent of alternative energy as a supplement to our more “traditional” methods of energy production (natural gas, nuclear being the primary sources I favor), and hope it’s wildly successful.

Goodness knows it won’t suffer from extreme winter weather out that far into the Gulf.  It’s primarily August and September to worry over for anything offshore.

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This would be pretty neat. We need all the energy sources we can get as we continue to explode in growth. With renewables, I know one of the big challenges is energy storage and accessing that energy, but with the projects like the Tesla battery farm near Angleton, that’s already being worked on. 
 

I share some of your concerns, editor re: migration paths and injuries to birds. I do hope there are adequate review processes that work to ensure less of an impact on bird and bat populations. I would think that putting these farms out over open ocean might mitigate some of the potential for effects on wildlife, maybe? 


I know, too, that there has been chatter about making turbines that can withstand hurricanes, which is probably one of the biggest concerns with offshore windfarms here in the Gulf. 

Edited by BEES?!
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