The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published proposed voluntary wind energy siting and operation guidelines in the Federal Register on March 2, and sought public comments through May 19.
As the comment period closed for the Draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines and the Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance, bird conservation groups led by the American Bird Conservancy delivered a comment letter to the agency calling for much stronger protections.
"Although wind power can be an important part of the solution to global climate change, wind farms can have significant impacts on birds - including eagles, songbirds, and endangered species - through collisions with turbines and associated power lines and through loss of habitat," said Mike Parr, vice president of American Bird Conservancy. "If bird-smart principles aren't adopted, we could easily see well over a million birds killed by turbines each year once the wind industry completes its expected build-out by 2030."
Mandatory bird-smart wind standards should employ careful siting, operation and construction mitigation, bird monitoring, and compensation, to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss, the bird conservation groups urge.
Birds fly around a wind farm in Chalmers, Indiana. (Photo by Donna Rich)
"Wind power certainly offers hope for a less-polluted future, but we as birders know that location matters and that impacts on birds and other wildlife should be figured into the calculus of costs and benefits of any energy project," said Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association.
But the wind energy guidelines as proposed by the Service have divided the conservation community.
Also on May 19, another group of conservationists including, Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Mass Audubon, joined the American Wind Energy Association in comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The American Wind Energy Association, AWEA, called both the Draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines and the Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance "unworkable" and made dozens of detailed recommendations to improve the documents. More than 12,000 individuals also submitted comments echoing the concerns raised by AWEA on both documents.
"The wind energy industry has a long and proud history of environmental responsibility. In fact, the wind energy industry has voluntarily agreed to hold itself to a higher standard for wildlife study, mitigation and protection than any other industry in the country," said AWEA CEO Denise Bode. "Unfortunately, the USFWS proposals in their current form do not represent a reasonable balance between the important and complementary goals of wildlife conservation and deployment of non-polluting energy."
According to a survey of AWEA members, the Service's draft policies jeopardize more than 34,000 megawatts of wind power projects, over 27,500 jobs, $103 million in potential landowner revenue, and $68 billion in investment.
The Governors' Wind Energy Coalition also submitted comments warning that wind energy development would be jeopardized by the Service's draft policies.
The letter from Coalition Chairman Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, and Vice Chair Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, states, "We support the responsible development of the nation's energy resources, but we are concerned that the FWS's proposed guidelines on land-based wind energy development and eagle conservation guidance, if adopted, would put at risk many wind energy projects without achieving benefits beyond those available from previously developed guidelines."
The thrust of the AWEA comments and the joint industry and NGO comments is a recommendation to return to the substance of the consensus recommendations of the USFWS Wind Turbine Guidelines Federal Advisory Committee, or FAC.
The Federal Advisory Committee was created by the Department of the Interior and composed of wildlife conservation organizations, state wildlife agencies, and wind industry representatives, among others.
The FAC worked for over two-and-a-half years and submitted the resulting consensus recommendations to Secretary Salazar in March 2010.
But AWEA says the Fish and Wildlife Service draft guidelines "deviate significantly from the consensus FAC recommendations" in key areas, including the role of USFWS in the review process, the scope and duration of pre-and post-construction studies, and the scope of covered species and covered impacts.
In the draft guidelines, complains AWEA in its comments, the Fish and Wildlife Service does not offer any explanation for the changes nor does the agency explain what additional conservation benefit would be provided.
On the other hand, Parr of the American Bird Conservancy says, "There is no need for jobs or renewable home-grown energy to be at risk from bird-smart wind principles. If industry is required to protect birds, then ABC is convinced that technical innovation will be accelerated The U.S. should be the global leader in developing bird protection technology we can export."
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