Birds and Blades

Iowa Windmill

Iowa Windmill

LAKE MACBRIDE— It’s no secret that when wind turbines began to be constructed, there was an unintended consequence of killing animals that collided with the large blades. Birds and bats made most of the news, endangered species particularly. On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will be extending the maximum length of the permits it’s granting wind energy facility operators for the ability to injure or kill bald and golden eagles. The move to increase the length of the permits from five to 30 years is intended to more closely match the life cycle of wind turbines and is said to be consistent with the department’s Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance. The so-called “eagle-take permits,” that accept the inevitable deaths of the national bird and other species, has begun to get conservationists in an uproar. It is only beginning.

First on deck to take action have been the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Working Group and the American Bird Conservancy. A friend who worked for the latter organization indicated that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put the cart before the horse in some cases. In Wyoming, a “record of decision” regarding an eagle-take permit on a wind farm was signed by the Department of the Interior before knowing where the turbines would be sited. It speaks of shoddy work by the department, even though the decision was more than a year in the works.

My experience in developing wind farms was a consulting engagement that was part of  the Criterion Wind Project near Oakland, Maryland. At the time I was involved, we hadn’t hear of an incidental take permit for birds and bats, and it wasn’t until the project was completed that the subsequent owners of California based Clipper Windpower, United Technologies Corporation, were required to get one for Criterion, and that only after legal proceedings.

What I know for personal observations was that the developers were very much like the desperadoes of the 19th Century West in that they dealt with regulatory issues, only as they came up, not in a pro-active manner, and with an eye toward completing the project above all else. If corners could be cut, they were. There was a race to take advantage of expiring wind energy tax credits from the federal government, and that drove the implementation schedule, with its corner cutting.  In the case of Criterion, public opposition grew, and the project was delayed because of it. Eventually, Criterion was scaled down and completed in December 2010. My understanding is that the take permit issue with regard to Indiana bats at this location is unresolved at this writing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife eagle take permitting re-emerged in the corporate media yesterday, and large environmental groups intend to fight the decision. Battle lines are being drawn between American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and conservation groups, and somewhere Charles and David Koch are smiling as it serves their agenda for the nascent wind energy industry to experience challenges. For someone like me, it’s tough to pick sides between people I know and respect on all sides of the issue. What I do know is the issue of our time is the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the deleterious effects it is having on life as we know it. There is no time for side skirmishes like the eagle take permitting, and one hopes for a speedy resolution to the conflict.

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