Crash Course: Wind turbine bird, bat deaths to be monitored?

Michigan Wind 1 near Ubly is part of the former Noble Thumb Windpark (NTW), which John Deere Renewables acquired from Noble Environmental Power in October, 2008. The project consists of 46 GE Energy SLE wind turbines.Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Michigan Wind 1 near Ubly is part of the former Noble Thumb Windpark (NTW), which John Deere Renewables acquired from Noble Environmental Power in October, 2008. The project consists of 46 GE Energy SLE wind turbines.Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By Howard Meyerson

LANSING, MI – Michigan wind power operators may soon be able to get a state permit to collect and count the number of birds and bats that are injured and killed by turbines each year, but they will not be required to do so, according to state wildlife officials.

“The program will be voluntary,” said Russ Mason, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife division. “We are trying to get a better handle on the wildlife impacts of Michigan wind development.”

“We would like to have pre- and post-construction monitoring because of the potential hazards. It’s important for us to know and we don’t have any authority about where they are put up.”

The decision to make the permits available to business entities that request them is scheduled for discussion today at the Natural Resources Commission meeting in Saginaw. A final decision is expected at the commission’s April meeting.

Wildlife “salvage” permits, as they are known, have been available only to scientific and educational organizations until now. Mason said the agency wants to offer them with hopes of getting better information about wildlife mortality, but adds that data may, or may not, be available to the DNR. If turbines are located on private lands, companies can refuse to give it to the state. That would not be the case for turbines built on state lands, were they to be approved, Mason said. Companies would be required to share that data.

“Wind developers want to be green and renewable. But in the absence of that mortality data, they are renewable, but there is nothing green about it.”

—Russ Mason, wildlife chief, Michigan DNR

“Michigan is different from other states that have a well-defined program, places like Pennsylvania, or Ohio which is in progress and several others,” Mason said. “There is no regulatory program in Michigan now and we are not in a position to develop one.

“There is no wildlife screening criteria for siting wind turbines. The US Fish and Wildlife Service have voluntary criteria, but they are not mandatory.

“We will be able to write a condition into the (salvage) permit so we have the data, but they (the company) may not want to share the data which might be considered a trade-secret. We would request it, but we can’t refuse to turn it over to another company that might use it for competitive advantage.”

That means any private land mortality data would also not be available to the public, Mason said, unless the company wants to release it. Which they might do if they were looking to market themselves as “Green”

“Wind developers want to be green and renewable,” Mason said. “But in the absence of that mortality data, they are renewable, but there is nothing green about it. Most reputable wind developers want the information. They want to be green, not just renewable.”

Michigan wind turbines generate approximately 1300 megawatts annually today and more units are coming online, according to Burr Fisher, a fish and wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service East Lansing field office. Fisher is in charge of federal activities involving wind power projects.

There is one operational wind farm with 14 turbines on the Garden Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula and five or six “working farms” in the thumb region of Michigan with 30 to 40 turbines per farm, according to Fisher. The tri-county area of Wexford, Osceola and Missaukee counties has another “45 to 50 turbines.”  There are also small installations at Mackinac City and Traverse City.

Wind turbines kill six to 10 birds a year per megawatt on average; that’s 130,000 birds in Michigan and “nothing to sneeze at,” Fisher said referring to a wildlife mortality measure found in wind industry reports.

The Garden Peninsula installation has been tough on tree bats and birds like warblers that migrate at night.

“It whacks more bats than birds,” Fisher said. “The tree bats are migratory and head south. They don’t hibernate. For some odd reason they are attracted to the turbines. It’s killing maybe 25 bats monthly and maybe 12 birds.

“We were worried about the Garden Peninsula. It’s a funnel for migratory birds, bats too. We told Heritage (Heritage Sustainable Energy LLC) that the Garden Peninsula wasn’t a good site, but they forged ahead and we can’t stop it.

“We’ve just advised them of their liabilities, which include potential violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act and Bald Eagle Act.

Fisher said Heritage project has applied for and received a federal wildlife salvage permit.

“They are doing it for the PR,” Fisher said. “They thought it would appease us to have post-construction monitoring.

Wind turbines, he added, do not kill as many birds as communication towers or even feral cats.

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Copyright © 2013 Howard Meyerson

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