Group: Wind turbine rules needed to help protect birds
Port Austin, Mich. — The sky above a tabletop-flat expanse of eastern Michigan farmland near Lake Huron is a well-traveled pathway for migratory birds journeying between summer nesting areas in Canada’s boreal forests and wintering grounds to the south. Thanks to brisk winds, the ground below is dotted with hundreds of electricity-generating turbines.
Federal guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urge wind energy developers to locate turbines with special care in places such as the “Thumb” region of Michigan’s mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula — or avoid them altogether, to prevent fatal collisions between birds and the towers’ whirring blades. But an advocacy group says the government’s voluntary approach is allowing too many wind farms to be built or planned for construction in important nesting areas and flight paths across large sections of the nation.
A new analysis by the American Bird Conservancy said more than 30,000 of the existing 48,000 turbines are in places that government agencies or nonprofit organizations such as the National Audubon Society describe as having special significance to birds. More than 50,000 others are planned for construction in such locations — about half of all turbines on the drawing board nationwide, according to the study, which the group provided to the Associated Press.
Locations that the group considers sensitive range from the Prairie Pothole region of the Great Plains, home to the threatened piping plover, to the entire state of Hawaii, where 32 bird species that exist only there are listed as endangered or threatened. Another is Huron County, at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb, where 328 turbines already generate power and local officials have approved 50 more.
“Wind turbines are among the fastest-growing threats to our nation’s birds,” said Michael Hutchins, coordinator of a conservancy program that encourages “bird smart” wind energy production.
The AP produced similar results after independently calculating data on which the conservancy based its report. The group used data from the U.S. Geological Survey, which keeps records of existing turbines, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which developers are required to notify before building new ones.
The conservancy said more than 96,000 planned turbines nationwide were listed in the FAA database, even after eliminating those it considered likely to be canceled because the agency designated them as posing a high-risk to air traffic.
A spokesman for the wind association, Tom Vinson, said the FAA figures aren’t meaningful because many will be scrapped because of wildlife concerns, inability to find a purchaser for the power or secure land agreements, high transmission costs or other reasons.