TXU's Winged Friends

A place for birds to live, as long as they don't breath the polluted air.

A year ago this month, before the brouhaha surrounding TXU's coal-fired power plans peaked last month in a buyout of the company, the utility made more environmentally friendly headlines. In one of the stories, an animal advocate even called TXU "one of the good guys."

TXU was busy building two 40-foot platforms near White Rock Lake that were specially designed as habitats for the monk parakeet, the bright green bird that has increasingly populated North Texas. Originally from South America, the parakeets were accidentally introduced and have flourished, becoming a serious problem for power companies across the country. They're attracted to latticed utility towers, which apparently make perfect platforms for their multi-chambered nests. Problem is, they can cause power outages. So according to The Dallas Morning News, after a power company in Connecticut was criticized for gassing the birds and handing hundreds of them over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be killed, TXU opted to build the birds their own platforms.

So, has it worked?

Gailee Cardwell, a TXU electric delivery spokesperson, tells Unfair Park the jury's still out. The pilot program includes two platforms, one near Garland Road and another on St. Francis, constructed at the end of last year's nesting season. At the first location, she says, the parakeets have built nests on the new platform, but there are still some on the utility equipment. If it begins to affect the electricity delivery system, the company will partner with wildlife rehabilitation groups to relocate the birds, Cardwell says.

"We'll just keep watching it," she says, "to make sure we take care of the environment and the [electricity] reliability, that they balance each other out." She added that at an older White Rock spot, TXU workers cautiously trim the nests to ensure they don't impinge on the equipment. I was there the other day and the parakeets seemed to be rushing to meet some sort of avian deadline. They were flying hurriedly, twigs in mouth, building their already enormous nests among the wiring. The efforts at co-existence, Cardwell says, are "just part of our ongoing partnering efforts with our local communities -- we want to come to a solution that works for everyone."

Hmm. Wonder what would've happened if they'd approached the coal plans that way from the outset? --Megan Feldman