Conservationists Develop New Guidelines to Reduce Wind Farm Bird Deaths

Wind and other renewable energy sources have generated much enthusiasm as partial solutions to global climate change and other energy-related environmental issues. At a January climate change conference held by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), American Bird Conservancy co-sponsored a workshop to help make wind energy truly “green” by minimizing wildlife impacts. The workshop produced the following six recommendations:

    Photo: Mike Parr, ABC
  • State and federal regulatory agencies should improve the consistency of requirements and regulations, and discourage policies that reduce research and environmental review prior to granting permits for new facilities.
  • Decision-makers should ensure that all positive and negative impacts are analyzed in their proper context in relation to other sources of energy generation.
  • Federal and state guidelines should define and identify high-risk areas that may warrant additional research, mitigation, or avoidance.
  • An independent body should explore the development of a process to certify wind projects that adequately minimize or mitigate impacts on wildlife and habitat.
  • All stakeholders must increase funding for priority monitoring and research, and federal and state agencies should increase funding and staffing to address wind permitting issues.
  • Permitting agencies and public utility commissions should account for monitoring, research, and mitigation in upfront planning and permitting of wind projects to improve cost certainty.

NCSE will publicize these recommendations, and American Bird Conservancy will use them in discussions with lawmakers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to encourage the standardization of permit requirements.

 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Preparing Guidelines to Mitigate Bird and Bat Deaths

 

Photo: Mike Parr, ABC

FWS recently convened an advisory committee of 22 experts from industry, the environmental community, and state governments to prepare draft guidelines for the siting and operation of wind projects to minimize bird and bat deaths, and reduce disturbance to wildlife habitat. The committee will formulate recommendations for the Secretary of Interior, with a deadline of early 2009. The Department of the Interior will finalize the guidelines later that year. American Bird Conservancy is calling for the guidelines to be mandatory throughout the United States.
Bird Kills Increase at Altamont Wind Farm Despite Mitigation Measures

The controversy over the Altamont Pass wind farm has been renewed with the release in late 2007 of data showing increased mortality of birds despite years of effort to curb collisions.

 

The massive wind farm at Altamont Pass in California, which has over 5,000 turbines, is situated in an area with a large raptor population. Birds frequently fly through the path of the rotor blades, the tips of which can rotate at speeds in excess of 150 mph, making them particularly deadly. Protected bird species, including the Golden Eagle, have been killed in significant numbers.

 

A 2004 study by the California Energy Commission estimated 1,700 to 4,700 birds die each year by flying into whirling turbine blades or being electrocuted by transmission lines that thread through the 50,000- acre Altamont Wind Resource Area. The fatalities in a single year involve as many as 116 Golden Eagles, 300 Red- tailed Hawks, 333 American Kestrels and 380 Burrowing Owls, the study found.

 

Following this study, and lawsuits filed by environmental groups to halt the deaths, Alameda County, the wind industry, and several environmental groups entered into agreements to reduce bird deaths at the wind farm. Mitigation measures included replacing older turbines with newer models that are meant to be less hazardous to birds, removing turbines located in the paths of hunting raptors, and turning off certain turbines during periods of heavy bird migration.

 

These agreements were based on industry data that showed the mitigation measures would reduce bird kills. However, in late 2007, new data were released showing mortality of bird has actually increased. Dr. Shawn Smallwood, a member of the county-appointed Scientific Review Committee, said efforts to reduce bird deaths by the target of 50% in three years are far behind. Shutting down many turbines during the winter when raptors migrate into central California has helped, but many other mitigation measures were deemed too expensive to be economically feasible. Environmental groups will continue to press for implementation of new mitigation, especially with escalating energy prices providing profits to pay for mitigation.