Environmentalists are joining forces to oppose a planned wind farm in southern Wyoming that is planned include up to 1,000 large wind turbines.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials estimate the wind turbines will kill between 46 and 64 golden eagles each year, plus a larger number of bats and other birds. The American Bird Conservancy says BLM is underestimating the likely death toll, with the annual golden eagle death toll possibly topping 200.
Golden eagles are a federally protected species. Any person or corporate entity killing golden eagles is subject to criminal penalties. Federal officials, however, have never charged wind power companies or officials for golden eagles killed by wind turbines.
The American Bird Conservancy joined forces with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and other environmentalist groups to oppose the southern Wyoming wind farm, planned for Carbon County. The proposed site, known as the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre, would disrupt key nesting ground for the sage grouse, which is under consideration for Endangered Species Act protection. The wind farm would also require construction of a 725-mile power line to deliver power from the wind farm to population centers.
Pristine Lands Forever Changed
H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, points out wind farms are not as environmentally benign as the renewable power industry claims.
“Wind farms are not like normal farms with rolling hills and acres of uninterrupted tracts of land. They are more like ‘wind factories’ with concrete slabs and roads and utility poles, lighting, generators, storage sheds, etc. Once they are put in place, [the windmills] dry out the land. If they place wind turbines in areas where sage grouse reside, the turbines will disrupt sage grouse habitat,” Burnett said.
Feds Pushing Ahead Anyway
The U.S. Department of the Interior has nevertheless given preliminary approval to the Carbon County wind farm, pending BLM approval.
“For better or worse, the Obama administration has decided that when it comes to ‘green energy’ and renewables like wind power, species survival takes a back seat,” noted Burnett.
“Wind power is not reliable, so it doesn’t make sense to build wind turbines in areas where there is no wind or intermittent wind. Instead, wind power companies have to place wind turbines where the wind blows, and unfortunately that means placing them in areas where migratory birds and birds of prey fly through. We could see wind turbines eliminating not only sage grouse and golden eagles in the area, but also ducks, hawks, and other birds of prey,” Burnett observed.
Core Habitat Jeopardized
Tom Christiansen, Sage-Grouse Program Coordinator for the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, says the state has designated core habitat areas for the sage grouse protection. The Carbon County site is on the edge of core habitat area, which suggests it will endanger bird populations.
“Boundaries were drawn by an interdisciplinary group that looked at grouse data and drew these core areas which take up 23 percent of the state but 84 percent of the sage grouse population,” said Christiansen.
“Wind [power generation] is essentially not allowed in the core areas,” Christiansen explained. “The Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project are on the edge of the core. As the project moves along, more data will be collected for ongoing study by the University of Missouri.
“We anticipate there to be impacts, but the data is being collected and will be ongoing. The vast majority of sage grouse territory is off-limits to wind power development,” he added.
‘Really Kind of Scandalous’
Erik Molvar, executive director of the Laramie-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, says it doesn’t matter where the boundaries are on a map.
“This project is almost entirely in sage grouse habitat—what they did was change the boundaries of the ‘core’ areas so they could build there. The only problem is that no one told the sage grouse their habitats are no longer important,” said Molvar.
He explained, “The power companies in Wyoming apparently asked the sage grouse working groups to redraw the boundaries so they could build their wind farms where they wanted. It’s really kind of scandalous because it illustrates that when a power company comes in, the core areas don’t matter.
“Placing 1,000 wind turbines in prime sage grouse habitat will result in massive reduction in sage grouse populations and speed the listing of the sage grouse onto the Endangered Species list, which is going to lead to greater restrictions on development,” Molvar concluded.
No Avoiding Grouse Impact
Barbara Parsons, a member of the South Central Sage Grouse Working Group which voted on the boundary change, says one of the aims of the state committee was to develop a core area where there would be no development.
“When you already have areas with large numbers of sage grouse, you don’t develop there—or if there was already development there you don’t want to develop further,” said Parsons.
“The Anschutz Corporation spent a lot of money trying to minimize the impact, and they brought in a lot of state-of-the-art equipment, so there was a lot of pressure to go through with the project,” said Parsons. Nevertheless, “I don’t care how much money you paid, when you put 1,000 wind turbines, concrete, and roads there you’re going to disrupt the wildlife and have an impact,” she observed.