Displaying items by tag: wind energy

(Washington, D.C., May 22, 2020)

The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) approved the Icebreaker Wind Energy Project yesterday, with conditions, moving the country’s first freshwater wind development closer to construction. Stipulations have been made to protect birds in this critical area for migratory species, including turning off the turbines at night for eight months of the year, but conservationists are concerned that these measures are changeable and may not hold long-term.

“The developers and their supporters have been determined to build this project regardless of the overwhelming evidence that for migratory birds, this is among the worst places in North America to place wind turbines,” said Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO). “The proponents of Icebreaker have consistently demonstrated a callous disregard for science, and the project, whose financial basis is experimental at best, may mostly be remembered as a monument of death for birds.” 

“The decision requires that the original Avian and Bat Memorandum of Understanding and Stipulations to the Application remain in effect, including turning the turbines off at night for eight months of the year,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy at American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “It’s positive that these have been upheld and must be complied with before construction can begin. However, we’re concerned that the stipulations can be reversed in the future.”

It is currently unclear whether the stipulations made by the OPSB will prove to be sufficient to cause the developer to withdraw the project. In addition, a lawsuit brought by BSBO and ABC against the Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers, for failing to adhere to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act when awarding a $40M grant to Icebreaker Wind, could still halt the project.

Icebreaker would be a precedent-setting wind energy facility in Lake Erie, offshore of Cleveland, Ohio. Turbines in the proposed project site would pose substantial collision risks to the enormous numbers of birds that use the area throughout the year, including large concentrations of migrating songbirds, as well as Common Loons, globally significant populations of Red-breasted Mergansers, and other waterfowl. Further, construction and increased vessel traffic associated with the project could pollute the waters used by these species.

“Icebreaker is a demonstration project,” said Kaufman. “Its review and approval will be considered the benchmark for hundreds, possibly thousands, of additional turbines expected to be proposed for the Great Lakes over the coming decades.”

Radar studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have recorded large numbers of migratory birds and bats near Great Lakes shorelines, including Lake Erie's south shore. Many were flying at altitudes that would be within the rotor-swept area of wind turbines, making these birds susceptible to collision-related deaths, injuries, and disturbance.

“We need renewable energy development to combat the effects of climate change, but it needs to be done right and there are better alternatives such as distributed solar right in Cleveland,” said Holmer. “We must ensure that we're not creating new problems in the process by building turbines in high-risk areas for birds.”

American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory are being represented in the lawsuit referred to above by the public interest environmental law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC.

ABC thanks the Leon Levy Foundation for its support of ABC's Bird-Smart Wind Energy Program.

###

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).   

Black Swamp Bird Observatory is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit whose mission is to inspire the appreciation, enjoyment, and conservation of birds and their habitats through research, education, and outreach.

(Washington, D.C., May 11, 2020) When the New York State Legislature finalized the state budget, it included the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act. The Act seeks to streamline the approval process for wind and solar energy projects as part of the State’s approach to achieving its renewable energy goals. While it does have some positive elements for wildlife, such as seeking to site projects on degraded lands and creating a bird impact mitigation fund, the Act also fast-tracks facets of renewable energy planning and development, and changes in this process raise red flags with some conservation groups.

“We have concerns about how this will be implemented,” says Joel Merriman, ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director. “A combination of aggressive timelines and the potential for automatic approvals at key steps in the process leaves the door open for wind energy facility plans to inadequately address risks to birds.”

Wind energy development is an important element of fighting climate change, but it does not come without environmental costs. ABC estimates that more than 500,000 birds are killed annually from collisions with wind turbines in the U.S. Given projected industry build-out, that figure is expected to increase to more than 1.4 million annually by 2030. Birds are also killed by powerlines installed to connect wind facilities to the energy grid, and yet others are displaced by facility development. Some species, such as Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles, are more vulnerable to turbine collisions, and due to slow reproductive rates, these birds have less capacity to recover from losses.

The Act creates a new Office of Renewable Energy Siting, which will work with other agencies to review and set conditions for proposed renewable energy projects. The input of wildlife management agencies will be crucial to ensure that birds receive adequate protection, but under the new law, these agencies are given short time windows to participate. Insufficient staffing, busy seasons, and many other factors could prevent meaningful review and input, potentially leaving birds largely out of the discussion.

Further, under the new law, local community input is substantially reduced and comes later in the planning process. This may prevent those with first-hand knowledge of local bird populations from influencing critical project elements that are determined early in the process, including facility and turbine siting.  

“A lot hinges on development of strong standards and conditions for project siting and planning,” says Merriman. “These must ensure that local bird populations are thoroughly assessed, and that turbines are not sited in high-risk areas.”

For example, in an application filed for the Heritage Wind project in western New York in mid-March, the developer proposes placing wind turbines in close proximity to a large wetland complex that includes a National Wildlife Refuge and two state Wildlife Management Areas. Important to both breeding and migratory birds, this block of habitat supports many species of conservation concern and is also considered an Important Bird Area. During the planning process, two local bird conservation organizations raised concerns about the planned facility’s proximity to these sensitive areas, but these points have not been addressed by the developer.

“The bird-related conflict that poorly sited wind facilities create is largely avoidable if good siting practices are required,” says Merriman. “The State can greatly reduce this kind of conflict by establishing no-go zones and other commonsense standards to keep turbines out of high-risk areas.”

Merriman offers some broader advice on meeting renewable energy goals: “Renewable energy development is just one piece of the climate change solution puzzle,” he says. “We encourage the State to be equally aggressive in implementing energy efficiency measures and installing distributed solar energy. Put solar panels on commercial, municipal, and residential buildings, over parking lots…anywhere they can be supported. Birds and people win when energy production is sited where it’s used, away from valuable bird habitat.”

Merriman continues, “In other arenas, New York has done great things for birds. The State can maintain this commitment by making some adjustments to the Act, such as eliminating automatic approvals and setting a positive precedent in the development of standards and conditions for wind energy projects. A recent study by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, ABC, and others shows that the United States and Canada lost nearly 3 billion birds — almost 30 percent of the total population — since 1970. It’s critical that we balance the need for renewable energy development with protecting our vulnerable bird populations.”

###

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

 

Thousands of Protected Bald and Golden Eagles May Be Threatened by Industry

 

(Washington, D.C., June 23, 2016) A neweagle-management planproposed by the federal government would give wind energy developers 30-year permits to “take” or incidentally kill protected Bald and Golden Eagles, without requiring the industry to share mortality data with the public or take into consideration such critical factors as proper siting. The so-called Eagle Take Rule, proposed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, puts many thousands of the nation’s protected Bald and Golden Eagles at unacceptable risk.

American Bird Conservancysuccessfully suedthe government over a previous version of the rule, which a federal judge agreed violated federal environmental laws. Unfortunately, the updated rule, open for public comment until July 5, 2016, is as problematic as the previous one.

In alettersent to FWS today, ABC spells out serious concerns about the revised rule. It would increase the number of eagles that can be killed by wind energy and other facilities. It’s based on insufficient data, and doesn’t require energy companies to be transparent about the effects of wind energy on our nation’s ecologically significant birds and bats. The rule doesn’t call for proper siting and regulation of wind energy development. And it allows for 30-year take permits without giving the public and conservation groups a voice in periodic reviews.

All of those flaws will put eagles and other wildlife in serious jeopardy if the rule is adopted. “Eagles are our nation’s symbol and are protected by law,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, director of ABC’sBird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “In the end, the new rule differs little from its previous incarnation and allows wind energy companies to continue to kill our nation’s iconic eagles with little or no consequence.”

FWS has said that the revised rule is meant to entice wind energy companies to apply for permits and adhere to the service’s voluntary wind energy guidelines, since they are not doing so at present. ABC believes adhering to these guidelines should be mandatory, not voluntary.

“Voluntary guidelines for an energy company are much the same as voluntary stops signs for motorists,” Hutchins said. “If the law doesn’t require them to stop, many would ignore signs altogether.”

ABC supports the development of clean, renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power to address climate change, but believes such development must be done responsibly, with minimal impact on our public trust resources, especially federally protected species such as Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles. When it comes to wind energy, proper siting is the most important consideration. (See our 2016 report on “Ten of the Worst-Sited Wind Energy Facilities for Birds.”)

“Conflicts between wind energy development and wildlife could be easily resolved through better mandatory regulation and enforcement of our wildlife laws, leading to proper siting of these facilities,” Hutchins said.

In its explanation of the new rule, FWS asserts that wind energy and other industries could cumulatively kill up to 4,200 Bald Eagles and 2,000 Golden Eagles every year without reducing their populations. These numbers represent a substantial potential increase in eagle take quotas from those allowed under the previous rule.

“The American people are not going to tolerate large numbers of eagles killed by poorly sited wind energy projects,” Hutchins said. “Nor should they. Eagles are not only our national birds and symbols of our democracy, they are sacred to Native Americans.”

Eagles, especially Golden Eagles, are highly vulnerable to collisions with wind turbine blades, which have tips that can rotate at more than 150 miles an hour. The notoriously poorly sited Altamont Wind Resource Area in California has killed more than 2,000 Golden Eagles since wind turbines first went into operation in there in the early 1980s. In addition, both Golden and Bald Eagles are killed by collisions and electrocution at associated power lines and towers.

The proposed rule is especially worrisome for Golden Eagles. Uncertainty about Golden Eagle populations—especially the small Eastern population of the birds—and the lack of knowledge about their behavior, migratory movements, and habitat use are, in ABC's view, the rule’s biggest weaknesses. FWS itself recognizes that Golden Eagle populations in the U.S. may be declining and that the species does not have the capacity to tolerate any additional, unmitigated mortality.

The rule spells bad news for Bald Eagles as well. Bald Eagles have just recently come off the Endangered Species List and are nowhere near their pre-DDT numbers. As wind turbines go up near freshwater lakes and large river systems and on- and offshore in marine coastal areas, however—all areas heavily used by the birds—Bald Eagle mortality is certain to increase.

The primary beneficiary of the proposed new Eagle Take Rule appears to be the wind energy industry, not our nation’s Bald and Golden Eagles, other native birds, and other ecologically important species such as bats. ABC urges the public and other conservation groups tomake their voices heardbefore the July 5 deadline for public comment on FWS’s revised 30-year Eagle Take Rule.

###

American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere's bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas.  With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.

 

Group has petitioned for new regulations to protect birds from wind turbines

 

(Washington, D.C., March 24, 2016)American Bird Conservancy (ABC) today released a list of 10 of the worst-sited existing and proposed commercial wind energy projects from the perspective of bird conservation. As the hunger for alternative energy grows, thousands of new wind energy projects are being planned and built—often without regard for the serious risks they pose to birds and other wildlife.(View the list as areport on our blogor as a PDF.)

A leader in developing and supporting the concept of “Bird-Smart” wind energy, ABC identified these 10 poorly sited projects based on a number of factors, including whether they fall in areas considered to be of high risk to birds onABC’s Wind Risk Assessment Map. ABC also examined pre-construction risk studies and related information about these 10 sites to assess the potential for impacts to federally protected species, and studied reports on post-construction mortality data where they were available.

Inadequate System of Checks and Balances

“ABC supportsBird-Smart wind, and it is not our intention to criticize the concept of renewable wind development in general or the developers of the specific projects included in the list,” said Mike Parr, ABC Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer. “Rather, this list is intended to demonstrate that, under the present voluntary guidelines, there is an inadequate system of checks and balances to protect American native birds from poorly planned wind development on a large scale.

“These projects are illustrative of a much broader problem,” Parr continued, “and have been selected to illustrate a range of threats to birds in various regions and habitats—threats that are unfortunately widespread in the wind industry.”

Thelisted projects—five already built or approved and five proposed—are located throughout the United States, in California, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Some of these projects, like the Summit Repowering Project in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in northern California, have a long history of causing bird deaths. Kaheawa on Maui, Hawaii, is considered a top killer of endangered birds, in spite of having conducted a pre-construction environmental risk assessment and implemented a Habitat Conservation Plan. Another, the proposed offshore Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, would be spread over a 24-square-mile area used by as many as six million migratory birds.

All of the listed projects illustrate the risks of poor siting and the limitations of current mitigation strategies, many of which are still untested for their efficacy. “The wind-energy industry has long claimed that the notorious wind developments in Altamont Pass are an exception in their killing of large numbers of eagles and other birds, and that other wind projects should not be judged in the same way,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, Director of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “ABC’s analysis shows that many wind projects kill birds, and not just eagles. Bird killing is more often the norm than the exception.”

 

Turbines in Sensitive Areas for Birds

The 10 listed projects are demonstrative of the inadequate consideration provided to birds during project planning and siting, in locations both on and offshore. As many as 52,000 large turbines already exist nationally, and tens of thousands more are planned, along with hundreds of miles of new transmission lines and towers to carry their energy to the grid. Wind-energy facilities and their associated infrastructure now result in the deaths every year, at minimum, of hundreds of thousands of federally protected birds. According to projections, this is likely to climb into the millions as wind power is fully built out.

ABC fully recognizes the important role that alternative energy, including wind power, can play in addressing climate change. However, current voluntary federal regulatory guidelines fail to keep wind developers from constructing and planning turbines or power transmission lines in sensitive areas for birds.

 

Proper Siting of Turbines Essential

Proper siting is essential and remains the most effective way for wind-energy developers to avoid or reduce bird mortality. ABC has mapped high-risk bird areas to help developers avoid bird hotspots and has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put in place a mandatory wind-facility permitting system that requires increased transparency, including independent environmental reviews, public availability of bird-mortality data, and mitigation and compensation for any completely unavoidable bird deaths.

“Alternative energy is not ‘green’ if it is killing hundreds or thousands or millions of birds annually,” said Hutchins. “It’s time to hold the industry accountable for conducting adequate, independent pre-construction site assessments and post-construction mortality studies, and for providing public access to the data so that they can help determine the efficacy and appropriateness of mitigation and compensation.

“Our wildlife should not be collateral damage in our effort to combat climate change, nor does it have to be,” Hutchins added. “Improved regulation and science leading to proper siting, effective mitigation, and compensation would go a long way to address this conflict.”

(View the list of "10 Worst-sited Wind Energy Projects for Birds" as aPDFor as areport on our blog.)

 

ABC's efforts to establish Bird-Smart wind energy in the U.S. are made possible in part by the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

# # #