Eagles kill permits granted for US wind industry

Filed under: 'Green' Killing Machines vs Birds,Hot News,Law and regulations |

An acknowledgement that the industry is not so green after all?

Will South Africa follow the very slippery road the US has taken regarding Eagle killings caused by wind turbines? Can South Africa put down conditions like “legal ‘takings’ should not access more than ‘5%’ of the local population”. Has South Africa even the capacity and financial means to map out populations sizes and active nests over its vast inaccessible land? How reliable will be the cadaver counting, if that will be done at all. It will be very likely nobody will notice any bird and bat killing caused by wind farms. All will go undetected because of the simple reason wind farm operators are not obliged by law to have a skilled, well equiped and independent cadaver-count team at work and at an interval that will give a realistic picture of the environmental damage done.

Conditions based on doubtful data? See comments.

Killed Bald Eagle US

 

Download: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance, Module 1 – Land-based Wind Energy, Version 2, April 2013.

 

New permits for turbines will be good for 30 years

U.S. loosens rules to aid wind industry

Original article by Tom Henry, last updated Jan 2014: http://www.toledoblade.com/Energy/2013/12/23/New-permits-for-turbines-will-be-good-for-30-years.html#Vdm7VsIs87RL2s5L.99

 

In one of the nation’s biggest clashes between energy production and wildlife interests, the Obama Administration has come down on industry’s side by going forward with a federal rule that allows wind-turbine operators to go 30 years without proving at length that their giant machines aren’t killing bald eagles and golden eagles. That decision has potential ramifications for the Great Lakes region because of its enormous contributions to eagle recovery efforts.

Until the rule was finalized earlier this month, operators installing machines close to known eagle populations — defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as occupied nests within 43 miles for bald eagles and within 140 miles for golden eagles — had to obtain new permits once every five years.

The service said in a report last April that wind turbines that destroy 5 percent or more of any local population would not likely be tolerated under any circumstances, whether or not modifications are made. Losses of even 1 percent of local populations from wind turbines could result in sanctions under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Now, operators can hold permits without extensive challenges for 30 years, though they still will be expected to report any problems and check in with the Fish and Wildlife Service once every five years to provide status updates.
Mark Shieldcastle, who for years led Ohio’s eagle-recovery efforts for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the distinction may appear subtle, but it has greatly loosened up the regulatory landscape for the wind industry.
Most turbines are not expected to remain in operation more than 30 years, meaning they’ll be at the end of their operational lives by the time they must undergo extensive reviews.
“If not reverse, it could definitely put a damper on recovery efforts,” said Mr. Shieldcastle, now the research director of the nonprofit Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

Ohio ranks fourth in the Great Lakes region for bald eagle populations behind Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The Great Lakes region is one of the biggest for eagles outside of Alaska. Golden eagles, which are much larger, can be found throughout much of North America, Asia, northern Africa, and Europe, but in the eastern United States they are less common than bald eagles.

Ohio DNR states on its Web site that it found about 190 bald eagle nesting pairs in Ohio this year, a slight decrease from the 2012 estimate of 210. But the eagles, after nearly becoming extinct from exposure to the pesticide DDT in the 1970s, were removed from the list of endangered species in 2007, representing one of the nation’s biggest success stories under the landmark 1973 Endangered Species Act that now influences many planning and development rules for construction.
Although the bald eagle has spread across much of Ohio, the state DNR said the marsh region of western Lake Erie continues to be its “stronghold.”

Western Lake Erie sits in the heart of major North American bird flyways. It is one of the nation’s battlegrounds in ongoing debates over the extent of turbines’ hazard to many bird and bat species.

John Anderson, director of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association, the wind industry’s Washington-based trade group, said it’s disingenuous for wildlife groups to lash out against the rule. He said the association considers climate change a much bigger threat to birds than wind turbines.

‘A positive effect’
“I personally think there will be a positive effect for eagles. This is intended to provide conservation benefit,” Mr. Anderson said.
The wind industry requested the rule change to help boost investor confidence in wind farms.
“Five-year permits with uncertainties for renewal just won’t work,” Mr. Anderson said.

Although critics describe research as inconclusive, Mr. Anderson said the wind industry estimates as few as 15 eagle deaths a year are attributed to wind turbines outside the Altamont Pass wind farm in northern California, one of the nation’s first wind farms. Altamont Pass was singled out in a 2005 Government Accountability Office report as an example of poor siting. It was developed in a major flyway.
Though established in 2009, the five-year permitting program was originated during the latter stages of George W. Bush’s presidency. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans for it in 2007, Mr. Anderson said.
He considers the expanded rule change for 30-year permits “a further refinement” of what began six years ago, adding there will still be sufficient checks and balances.
Mr. Shieldcastle doesn’t agree, nor do many wildlife groups.

Bird flyways
Groups such as the Black Swamp Bird Observatory have been fighting for years not only to keep wind farms away from bird flyways but also away from the Lake Erie shoreline. Many species of birds use the shoreline and the Lake Erie islands to migrate.
Their goal is to prohibit wind turbines from going up within 3 miles of the shoreline on either land or water.
Mr. Shieldcastle said the most likely scenario is that the rule change will entice smaller projects, such as one-turbine or two-turbine projects and machines that are shorter than the massive 1.7-megawatt, commercial-scale giants. Then, about a decade from now — when there are a smattering of such small projects — the major wind companies likely would move in, citing data from their smaller counterparts to claim their impacts will be minimal, he said.

“I think the potential of being a chronic problem to the bald eagle population is there. If left unchecked, we’re going to see a proliferation of these things over the next decade,” Mr. Shieldcastle said.
Many of the smaller and midsized machines produce less than 1 megawatt. A megawatt is roughly the amount of electricity necessary to power 1,000 homes.

Federal law does not require environmental-impact statements for projects in which fewer than 50 megawatts are produced. The Ohio Power Siting Board, following Minnesota’s lead, has superseded federal law by requiring all projects of 5 megawatts or more to have those reviews.
Kelly Fuller, former head of the American Bird Conservancy’s wind campaign, said the Obama Administration has “decided to break the law and use eagles as lab rats.”

The Humane Society of the United States has weighed in too.
“We realize that all energy production systems come with their ecological and animal welfare costs, but that doesn’t mean we should exempt those who cause acute impacts from any responsibility or mitigation requirements,” said Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society’s president and chief executive officer.

“Extending take permits for 30 years prevents the administration from fully considering the impact of wind farms on eagles and is a blow to the protection of raptors and so many other types of birds,” Mr. Pacelle said.
Mr. Anderson disagreed.
“This is not a program to kill eagles,” he said.

Monitoring impact
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it will continue to monitor long-term environmental impacts and do what it takes to minimize impacts to eagles and other wildlife.

A statement posted on its Web site said the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates “that wind turbines may kill a half million birds a year.”
It did not state how many of them are eagles, but it acknowledged there are risks associated with them.
“Not all bird species are equally vulnerable to wind turbines,” according to an agency fact sheet. “Eagles appear to be particularly susceptible. Large numbers of golden eagles have been killed by wind turbines in the western states. However, bald eagles have also been killed, although not in the numbers seen in the West.”

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

…As discussed in the FWS Eagle Take Policy, the FWS’s objective is to manage the species by authorizing take at a level that is less that 5 percent of the local area population. Despite the low estimated eagle mortality derived from wind industry studies, the local/regional wind turbine fatality of eagles is not even close to 5% and is likely to be in the range of 25%-50% per year. With proper studies and analysis it would also be found that the golden eagle mortality from both the Montezuma Hills and Altamont Pass Wind Resource areas, already easily exceeds 5% percent of the total golden eagle population for all of California and probably Oregon combined. This amount of mortality far exceeds any reasonable or ethical meaning for the term “regional population”…

…Basically the FWS/wind industry angle is to have a 5% allowable take from a much larger regional population. These are numbers that are greatly inflated and certainly outdated for this declining population. Look at the eagle population numbers given below. They are completely insane. The Great Basin population estimate is 6859 golden eagles. There is no way there are even 1000 nesting pairs in this area. For example a 2011 golden eagle population survey for the Great Basin region of Oregon showed about 100 successful nesting pairs. Add another 400 from Nevada and you get about 500 nesting pairs at best from an area that makes up about 60% of the Great Basin Habitat. In my opinion the FWS golden eagle population estimates are deliberately inflated about 3 times too high. I would be happy to write an article or help draft a letter. Or better yet I would like to grab the Regional Director by the ear and have him show me even 500 Great Basin nests…

…Altamont pass area is included in their estimated local area population. It appears they use a 10 mile radius plus another 140 mile radius for a total of about a 150 mile radius from the project site. This includes all of Altamont Pass and the Pacheco Pass wind farm. It looks like their 5% criteria omits the killing from these other two wind farms and all the new turbines used for the repowering at Altamont are illegal because it puts them way past the 5%. In the enclosed map I show the three wind farms and the 150 mile radius. The population of golden eagles within a 150 mile radius from the Montezuma Hills wind resource area is not 526 as the FWS estimates. My estimate is that there are now about 70 occupied active nests and a population total of 200- 250. One has to keep in mind that this region also has the bulk of the golden eagles remaining in California. So if they are killing 75 eagles at Montezuma and Altamont, they are killing at a rate of over 30 percent of the remaining population each year…

…Most of the mortality data is from mortality studies conducted around on the older smaller turbines in the 100 kW range and you have to really dig to find this out. But even if the mortality data was available for all the newer large turbines, they have shrunken down search areas, do not include eagles from outside these search areas, personnel pick up bodies and estimates do not include mortally wounded wanderers. At one time the eagle mortality for the smaller turbines, with 30 day search intervals, was estimated to be more than 10 times the actual body count when accounting for eagles not found in search areas. The new counts at Altamont are finding twice the bodies, the new turbines have proportionally much smaller search areas on the bigger turbines, and eagle mortality estimates have been reduced to about twice the body count. They are using the new counts to claim that they have lowered mortality at Altamont and to falsely claim that their new larger turbines are safer…

 

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