Industrial wasteland? Critics contend that wind farms, like
this one off the coast of Denmark, are environmental disasters.
Advocates consider them a beautiful site compared with the ravages
induced by climate change.
When South Texas fishing guide Walt Kittelberger founded the Lower
Laguna Madre Foundation in the 1990s, it was to fight would-be
developers on South Padre Island. Then he and his group took on the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over dredging.
Now, Kittelberger and his fellow advocates have a new foe: two
wind-power farms that Kittelberger says could forever alter the
shores of Laguna Madre, a shallow lagoon along 100 miles of South
Texas coast known for its fishing and birding. "It would change a
pristine rural environment into an industrial zone," he
Coastal residents from California to Florida are accustomed to oil
drillers seeking purchase off their shores. Thanks to rising energy
prices and the new emphasis on domestic energy independence,
residents now face an expanding list of other energy producers
eyeing beaches or local waters. Wind-farm companies may be the best
known, thanks to the pitched battle over the 130-turbine Cape Wind
in Nantucket Sound. But other coastal energy projects in the offing
include huge liquefied natural gas terminals, intended to process
natural gas imported on international cargo ships, and wave energy
farms, which use turbines to harvest energy from waves and
Some, especially in longtime energy states such as Texas and
Louisiana, welcome the new producers as sources of jobs and
revenues. But others oppose local coastal energy projects on
environmental, aesthetic, or safety grounds.
With members on both sides, the American Shore & Beach
Preservation Association, a national coastal protection group, has
not endorsed or opposed any one energy project or industry. But
coastal energy production "is becoming more and more of an issue
for us," says Harry Simmons, president.
Babcock & Brown and PPM Energy are pursuing two wind farms in
South Texas' sparsely populated Kennedy County that together would
contain hundreds of 400-foot tall wind turbines. With the best
energy-producing winds in the country's interior, the project would
be one of only a handful of land-based coastal farms nationwide,
says Laurie Jodziewicz, a policy manager with the American Wind
Energy Association. But several large offshore wind farms have been
proposed, including Cape Wind in Massachusetts, and at least one
each off the New York and Delaware coasts.
The population density on the coast is a double-edged sword for
wind-energy producers: while it may mean opposition from local
residents, the higher population increases the demand for
electricity, says Jodziewicz. "People are located near the coast,
so you don't have to move the power as far," she says. "Bigger
transmission lines can be more expensive."
Wind-farm opponents have labeled them "avian Cuisinarts," saying
local and migrating birds strike and are killed by their rotating
turbines. For offshore farms, concerns range from marred beachfront
views to encroachments on fishing grounds. For onshore ones,
opponents complain that road building carves up rural lands. That
and the threat to birds migrating north across the Gulf are both
concerns for Kittelberger, who has joined other advocates in filing
two lawsuits over the Texas farms. "For us the single biggest thing
is the enormity of their footprint," he says.
Jodziewicz responds that high bird fatalities seen with the
earliest wind farms have fallen off in newer, better-placed ones.
And the companies plan to take measures to limit the danger to
migrating birds, she says. As for onshore development, the turbines
typically require only small gravel roads and may even increase
shoreline access for recreational fishers, she notes.
Similar debates are only becoming more common on the coast, and not
just over wind farms. Dozens of liquefied natural gas terminals
have been proposed along the Gulf and East Coast, and fishermen
have already raised concerns about large-scale wave energy farms.
"What I've learned," says Kittelberger, "is to not underestimate
them. They are coming."
Recession Means Decline
Deciphering the effects of a slump
by Aaron Hoover
While housing slumps and population growth declines, the coast
never quite loses its appeal.
While coastal populations remain some of the densest in the
country, population growth in the Southeast's coastal states has
slowed, leading some to wonder if hurricanes, insurance, and higher
taxes are reversing Americans' decades-old affection for warm
But demographers say the housing downturn is probably the leading
cause of slumping growth in Florida and slowing growth in
neighboring states reported by the Census Bureau in its most recent
estimate of annual state population changes.
"I attribute at least some of it to the housing market slump and
the difficulty of getting credit for people who want to move to a
new place," says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings
The Census numbers show Florida's population grew 1.07% between
July of 2006 and 2007, down from 1.81% during the same period the
previous year — the biggest drop since at least 2000.
Georgia's population growth rate slowed from 2.57% to 2.16%, while
the rate stabilized in North and South Carolina after speeding
dramatically in 2005. On the Gulf Coast, growth slowed in Texas and
Alabama and went from negative to positive in Louisiana and
Mississippi, but the latter numbers reflected people returning to
the states after losses following Hurricane Katrina.
Florida's population grew by 193,735 residents from July of 2006
through last July. Still, that was way down from 321,481 the year
before — spurring a spate of news and editorials contending
that Florida is losing its luster.
But Stan Smith, director of the University of Florida's Bureau of
Business and Economic Research, says that while fears of
hurricanes, Florida's spiraling insurance rates, and property tax
burdens could be partly to blame, the housing slowdown is probably
the leading cause. "In previous times, during recessions, the
migration to Florida slowed considerably," Smith says.
Demographers elsewhere in the Southeast also ranked housing as
Bill Tillman, North Carolina's state demographer, says the state
had not experienced the same housing boom as Florida and as a
result was not seeing as pronounced a slowdown in population
growth. To the contrary, unlike in Florida and elsewhere,
applications for building permits in North Carolina went up in
Judy Hadley, a demographer with Georgia's Governor's Office of
Planning and Budget, ties the Peach State's slowing growth to the
"current housing issues."
But she adds the Census Bureau had also changed its methodology
this year, reducing estimated growth numbers across the board. She
says Georgia's six coastal counties continue a long-standing growth
Most demographers are optimistic about their states' outlooks,
though Hadley notes that Georgia needs to find solutions to a
current water crisis if it expects to continue growing —
something increasingly true in neighboring states as well. Frey
emphasizes the Southeast will remain attractive because of its warm
weather, comparatively inexpensive, newly built homes, and
friendliness to industry.