Windy argument over windmills near King Ranch
Johnny Vela, among the latest in a long line of Kenedeños who have worked for generations as coastal cowboys in South Texas, knows the friendly history of the legendary side-by-side Kenedy and King ranches.There is much more on the feud. Hunt's best argument is that a natural gas power plant would make a smaller footprint, but that hardly seems to be much of a problem when you consider the sizes of both ranches, I think they can find the space for the turbines. I don't understand the opposition to wind generated power. I would certainly consider having one of the elegant windmills on my small acreage, especially if it meant not having to pay an electric bill. While I am skeptical about how a weightless material like CO2 can be measured in tons, I have no problem with pursuing alternative energy especially if it makes us less dependent on unreliable imported sources of energy. To their credit the Audubon Society does not object to this project.
"That's what we've always thought," said Vela, standing outside his modest home a couple of blocks from the Kenedy County courthouse.
Vela and other townsfolk also know that nearly a century and a half of peaceful coexistence has been shattered — and not because of rustling, fences or anything else that might have set neighboring ranches to battle in the Texas of yesteryear.
This modern fight is about wind-powered turbines, namely those the Kenedy's overseers want and the King's operators don't. And instead of duking it out on their vast expanses of largely unspoiled range, it's a war of words mostly waged in office buildings in Houston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and even Portland, Ore.
"(King Ranch Chief Executive) Jack Hunt goes around telling lies and misquoting information and has no technical skill whatsoever, trying to mislead the public that wind energy doesn't exist and doesn't add any value, doesn't produce much and is a tax debacle," said John Calaway, whose company plans to build 157 turbines on a plot now owned by the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation.
Calaway oversees the project from the 40th-floor downtown Houston branch of Babcock & Brown, an Australia-based investment firm.
The mere mention of Hunt's name might cause smoke to come from his ears if he weren't so opposed to carbon dioxide emissions.
Likewise, at the King Ranch's 16th-floor headquarters in the Galleria area, Hunt gets agitated just thinking about 400-foot-tall turbines picketing the pristine coastal prairie of Kenedy ranch land, which is nearly surrounded by King parcels.
Marc Cisneros, a retired Army general who heads the Kenedy Memorial Foundation, rejects Hunt's claim that he and the trust are willing to sacrifice the unique South Texas environment for a quick payday from wind speculators.
"We at the Kenedy Foundation do not take a back seat to the King Ranch or anyone else in concern for wildlife," said Cisneros from his 17th-floor office in downtown Corpus Christi, adding that "what wildlife worries about is someone shooting at them," a swipe at the King Ranch's prominence as a hunting destination.
"We looked at (the wind proposal) very carefully. We were very cognizant of conserving wildlife. We have quantitative data that show it's not an issue."
That data is constantly flowing into Calaway's offices at Continental Center. A diesel-powered radar site, which sits on the lonesome Jaboncillos Pasture somewhere between U.S. 77 and the coast, has been taking continuous sweeps of the airspace since September, tracking every bird to see if dozens of spinning rotors would pose a threat.
"We're not seeing the 'river of birds' that Jack Hunt talks about," said Calaway, who holds research predicting minimal impact to bird populations. Plus, he said, the turbines practically stop on a dime if a major influx of birds does pour into the area.