Better Plan continues with our look at the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Glacier Hills Wind Farm proposed for the Towns of Randolph and Scott in Columbia county.
Today we're looking at the section called ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF THE GLACIER HILLS WIND PARK which begins on page 24 with the issue of bird mortality.
We're very troubled to learn the pre-construction bird and bat studies were done by same utility that is proposing the project.
Here's what the EIS says about birds:
"The potential for avian mortality and displacement from feeding and nesting habitat is a major environmental concern. Bird collisions with turbine blades and towers have been widely reported in this country and abroad.
WEPCO conducted a pre-construction avian study of the project area between mid-June 2007 and mid-June 2008.1 The methodology used and the timing of the survey was consistent with the Breeding Bird Survey methodology and provided a general assessment of bird use in the project area during the one-year study period. The avian study did not identify any heavily used local flight paths or any locations in the project area
where bird activity was heavily concentrated.
The surveys recorded observations of 151 bird species.
Three state-listed threatened species were recorded. An additional 20 species that are listed as species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) were observed in the project area.
Almost all project construction would occur on active agricultural lands. Only a small amount of habitat other than agricultural lands would be directly disturbed by the project. Active agricultural lands provide feeding areas for some bird species during migration and winter but provide only limited habitat for nesting birds. The impact to bird habitat from direct habitat removal and from fragmentation of existing habitat would be relatively low."
NOTE: Though the impact to bird nesting habitat would be relatively low, what about the impact to the birds themselves? Concern about the effects of a large scale industrial wind farms on actual bird populations is growing.
According to a new study by the Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, wind farms can reduce bird numbers by up to half. [click here for source]The research, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, suggests the most likely cause of the decline is the fact that birds are less likely to live near wind farms because of the noise and development.
In another report, [source] Purdue University Associate Professor John Dunning says wind turbines could also pose a threat to animals that share the airspace: “The worry is if you put something dramatically different, like big towers with whirling blades in it, some of the species that previously used that area, might not get killed but they might avoid going into the area,” Dunning said.
Newsweek published a recent report entitled "Birds VS Environmentalists" with the sub-heading:"The wind industry may be green, but it's proving deadly to wildlife"[source] In it, Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy says turbines kill three to 11 birds per megawatt of wind energy they produce. Right now, there are about 20,000 megawatts produced in the United States, which can mean—at worst—up to 220,000 bird fatalities a year. With wind energy expected to produce 20 percent of this country's energy by 2030, output would grow tenfold and, environmentalists worry, deaths could increase at a similar rate.
Because the turbines in the Glacier Hills wind farm will cover over 17,000 acres, and because out of the 151 species of birds identified in WEPCO's pre-construction study, 3 species are threatened and 20 more qualifiy as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) we believe another independent study should be conducted by a party with no financial interest in providing results required to get approval of this project.
Residents in both the Invenergy wind farm near the Town of Byron and in the Blue Sky Green Field wind farm near the Town of Malone in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties have said there have been fewer birds since the turbines have gone up. Many have specifically mentioned the loss of barn swallows, even on farms where barn swallow flocks have been coming to nest for years.
Wind developers will often say more birds are killed by cats than by wind turbines. True or not, this statement seems intended to make turbine related bird deaths more acceptable.
By DAVID SCHECHTER / WFAA-TV
13 October 2009
When it comes to generating green energy from the wind, Texas leads the way.
But in the pursuit of cleaner energy, there’s also an environmental cost: dead birds and bats killed by turbine blades.
Now a unique research project in North Texas is trying to find out how many are dying and what can be done to save them.
As Texas continues to flip the switch from dirty coal to clean wind, not all is perfectly green.
That’s why Texas Christian University researchers are scanning the base of a wind turbine at Wolf Ridge, outside Muenster, Texas.
“Some of them are obvious that the turbine killed them. Other times you can’t tell,” said field technician Jennifer Ellis of the dead birds she finds.
Among them are raptors, vultures, yellow-billed cuckoos, said Amanda Hale, TCU researcher.
Birds killed by wind turbines pale in comparison to birds killed by cars, buildings and other animals.
“We do know that birds and bats are being affected by wind turbines,” said Hale.
Hale and her team want to definitively determine how many birds and bats are killed by wind turbines.
Her peer-reviewed research project is funded by the nation’s biggest renewable energy company NexTera.
“We’ve actually seen a huge variety of birds,” Hale said.
But it turns out, dead bats are the surprise finding.
Hale did not expect to find any. Instead, her team has found five times more bats than birds.
Why is that a problem?
The bat population is smaller, more susceptible to disease, and slower to reproduce.
“If we add wind on top of it, it’s enough to be a real concern,” said Hale.
Back at the Hale’s laborartory at TCU, they carry out tests.
“We can measure how good we are at finding these bats,” said Kris Karsten.
Hale’s team analyzes DNA, weather patterns and mortality trends at the Wolf Ridge Wind Farm, all for one purpose.
“If we can predict when mortality happens, we can use that information to prevent it,” said Hale.
As our reliance on wind energy grows, a discovery like that may keep us from making things worse, while we’re trying to make them better.
Updated 9/22/2009 3:21 AM ET
For years, a huge wind farm in California's San Joaquin Valley was slaughtering thousands of birds, including golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and burrowing owls.
The raptors would get sliced up by the blades on the 5,400 turbines in Altamont Pass, or electrocuted by the wind farm's power lines. Scientists, wildlife agencies and turbine experts came together in an attempt to solve the problem. The result?
Protective measures put in place in an effort to reduce deaths by 50% failed. Deaths in fact soared for three of four bird species studied, said the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area Bird Fatality Study.
The slaughter at Altamont Pass is being raised by avian scientists who say the drive among environmentalists to rapidly boost U.S. wind-farm power 20 times could lead to massive bird losses and even extinctions.
New wind projects "have the potential of killing a lot of migratory birds," said Michael Fry, director of conservation advocacy at the American Bird Conservancy in Washington.
Wind projects are being proposed for the Texas Gulf, the Atlantic Coast, the Great Plains and Upper Midwest. President Obama said in April that he would allow turbines along the Atlantic as one way to help meet a goal by environmentalists and the industry of generating 20% of the nation's electricity through wind by 2030. Currently about 1% of U.S. power comes from wind, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
"There's concern because of the scale of what we're talking about," said Shawn Smallwood, a Davis, Calif., ecologist and researcher. "Just the sheer numbers of turbines … we're going to be killing so many raptors until there are no more raptors."
Working on the problem
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is aware of the problem and says the administration is working with energy companies and wildlife groups to help lessen the deaths.
"I think we will be able to minimize the number of birds being killed, just in terms of sheer numbers," Salazar said. "The fact that some birds will be killed is a reality."
Officials in the wind-energy industry say migratory birds and birds of prey, including eagles, are killed each year at some of the nation's biggest wind farms, but they say the concerns are overstated.
Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association, said the industry has taken steps to reduce bird deaths.
"We have hundreds and hundreds of projects all over the country that are not having those impacts," she said, referring to Altamont.
Bird deaths cannot be completely eliminated, Jodziewicz said. "There will be some birds that are killed because they do collide with so many structures," Jodziewicz said.
Salazar said new technology in the design of turbines and more careful placement, such as outside of migratory paths and away from ridgelines, can reduce bird deaths.
Fry says other methods include using radar to detect and shut down turbines when migratory birds approach, building towers higher and with more space between them, and placing them away from areas where raptors hunt for small animals.
"Technology has evolved over the last several decades in significant ways," Salazar said. "We know how to do wind farms in ways that minimize and mitigate the effect on birds."
Non-wind utilities fined heavily
Some see a double standard for wind farms.
ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court in August to the deaths of 85 birds at its operations in several states, according to the Department of Justice. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Exxon agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees. In July, the PacifiCorp utility of Oregon had to pay $10.5 million in fines, restitution and improvements to their equipment after 232 eagles were killed by running into power lines in Wyoming, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That is far fewer than the estimated 10,000 birds (nearly all protected by the migratory bird law) that are being killed every year at Altamont, according to Robert Bryce, author of Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of "Energy Independence." Bryce says that follows a decades-long double-standard where oil and gas companies face prosecution, but "politically popular" forms of energy get a pass.
Salazar said his department's Fish and Wildlife Service task force will recommend guidelines for wind farms that are friendlier to birds.
Bird advocates raise doubts about the impact, because the guidelines are voluntary.
"It's still entirely up to power companies where to place towers," said Gavin Shire, spokesman for the American Bird Conservancy.
We are grateful to the PSC for recognizing that the number of bat fatalities caused by the Glacier Hills wind turbines could be high.
Here's what the EIS has to say about bats:
Bat mortality has exceeded bird mortality at most wind farms where post-construction monitoring of both animal groups has been conducted.
Many species of bats are long-lived and have low reproductive rates.
Also, Bat Conservation International estimates that more than 50 percent of American bat species are in decline.
These characteristics make bat populations more vulnerable to the cumulative impacts that could occur as the number of wind projects continues to increase.
Seven species of bats are known to occur in Wisconsin; five of these are state species of special concern exhibiting some evidence of decline.
Very few bat studies have been conducted in Wisconsin and thus bat numbers and behavior are not well understood.
A pre-construction bat activity study was conducted in the Glacier Hills project area. The study, based on acoustic surveys, focused on bat activity patterns during the post-breeding and fall migration periods. No species identifications were performed during the study.
It is certain there will be some level of bat mortality if the proposed wind farm is constructed. However,due to the lack of research on bat mortality at wind farms in the Midwest, it is not possible to make predictions about the magnitude of bat mortality for this project or whether that mortality would have a significant impact on bat populations.
Post-construction mortality studies are being conducted at three recently completed wind projects in Wisconsin, including WEPCO’s Blue Sky Green Field (BSGF) project. These projects have land cover similar to that present within or adjacent to the Glacier Hills project boundary. In addition, the projected bat activity levels based on pre-construction surveys at BSGF are similar to the pre-construction estimates for the Glacier Hills project.
The initial post-construction data from the BSGF project show a high level of bat mortality.3 Thus, it is possible that bat mortality at Glacier Hills could also be high.
The PSC is now taking comments on the Glacier Hills EIS. If you'd like to comment on page 24 of the EIS regarding the impact of 90 wind turbines on bird and bat poplulations in the Glacier Hills project area, CLICK HERE
To review the entire docket for this project CLICK HERE and enter docket number 6630-CE-302.
To watch a short video about bats and wind turbines, click on the image below.
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD: Many residents of wind farms in our state have pointed out that studies have been done on the effect of wind turbines on birds and bats, but none have been done on the effect wind turbines have on the people who are forced to live with them.