CORPUS CHRISTI — A group of wind power developers and federal wildlife officials are grappling with an unfortunate coincidence: The Great Plains, the nation’s windiest corridor, happens to be the preferred path of the endangered whooping crane and other migrating birds.
A Thursday meeting addressing the problem drew birders, wind developers and landowners eager to capitalize on the growth of wind power to the American Bank Center.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had the forum as an initial step in creating a plan to protect threatened and endangered birds from wind turbines across a 200-mile wide corridor from the Coastal Bend to Canada. The corridor follows the whooping crane migration path.
“We’re for green energy. We want it done responsibly,” said Fred Lanoue, a birder from Aransas Pass.
Lanoue and his wife, Linda, came to ask federal officials to press the industry to report more information about bird deaths at wind farms, echoing a common complaint from wildlife advocates who say the industry hasn’t done enough to measure the effect of turbines on birds.
“From what we’ve heard, some of the wind companies are very defensive about it,” Lanoue said.
Any permit issued to wind developers under the Great Plains plan could include new reporting requirements, said Marty Tuegel, a regional ecological coordinator for the wildlife service. Companies could be penalized for failing to report bird deaths.
“There’s an assumption that it’s going to happen and it’s going to happen right,” Tuegel said. “Whooping cranes are very visible and you’ve got a lot of birders around here. If (a whooping crane) goes down, we’re going to know about it.”
The plan is being developed at the urging of 19 major wind companies, which foresee rapid development of turbines in the whooping crane flyway and recognize that taking a group approach to conservation would be more responsible and make development easier, Tuegel said.
Developing plans for individual projects can cause delays and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Tim Hayes, environmental director for Duke Energy Renewables, one of the 19 companies that formed the Wind Energy Whooping Crane Action Group.
He said having a plan for the entire flyway will help wind companies know what conservation requirements, such as setting aside bird habitat, to expect before developing wind farms.
There’s no consensus on how many birds are killed by turbines. State and federal regulators don’t require turbine operators to make public reports, though some do voluntarily. In February, Pattern Energy and Iberdrola Renewables released results of company-sponsored yearlong studies of bird deaths at their wind farms on the Kenedy Ranch.
About 2,700 birds and 5,400 bats were killed, according to the companies’ estimates. The results were in line with what industry trade groups say is average. The farms had 286 turbines during the study period. Of the species identified, none were endangered.