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Wind power for the birds? Turbine blades can be lethal for birds and bats  

Sometimes it's not easy being green. Proponents say Michigan is ideal for wind generation, a Green Power energy source that is pollution free and self renewing. But some worry that spinning wind turbine blades up to 85-feet long could be lethal scythes for migrating birds, especially if, as some predict, wind generation gathers steam in Michigan.

"It’s kind of a ‘Catch-22’ kind of thing," said Ron Hoffman, a Jackson-area wildlife biologist and co-chairman of the Michigan Audubon Society’s sanctuary program.

Last month the General Accountability Office, formerly the General Accounting Office, the federal watchdog agency that investigates government spending, released a study that indicated wind-powered generating stations can have a significant impact on bats and birds, particularly when such facilities are located in or near flyways used during spring and fall migrations.

Meanwhile, Dan Bishop, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, said the so-called "green energy" programs have been popular with customers – a pilot program that ended in October was "oversubscribed" and interest remains strong in the current program.

With a recent Michigan Public Service Commission order, Bishop said he expects to see more renewable electric generation in Michigan, including wind-powered turbines.

Experts in Michigan say new designs and improved siting will prevent significant bird mortality impacts here.

Richard VanderVeen, president of Michigan Power LLC, the private developer of two wind turbine generators near Traverse City, said fears about significant bird kills in Michigan are overblown.

VanderVeen said his generators have not killed a single bird in 48 months of operation and, with the exception of unique problem sites in California or other areas, the average kill per machine is two birds per year."I know there is concern," said Joe Johnson, a bird and wildlife expert at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station near Hickory Corners in Barry County.

But Johnson was not aware of specific issues, or studies done in Michigan. Johnson said concerns might be elevated if turbine blades are spinning during the night, during peak migration periods.

VanderVeen said no operational changes have been made at the stations developed by Mackinaw Power because bird mortality is not a problem.

Tom Stanton, coordinator of the Michigan Renewable Energy Program for the MPSC, said Michigan does have a viable market for wind generation and it’s likely more generating facilities will be built.

"In the right locations, wind energy will more than pay for itself," Stanton said. The Energy Office of the Department of Labor and Economic Growth developed draft siting guidelines to assist local governments, which includes a section calling for potential environmental impacts. The draft suggested that sites to be given special scrutiny are areas where birds are concentrated, bat hibernation areas, migration pathways and locales with landscape features that are known to attract large numbers of raptors.

Stanton acknowledged bird mortality has been an issue in some locations, but he downplayed the potential impact in the Midwest, and in Michigan.

"It has not been a serious problem in the Midwest, yet," Stanton said. "As a general rule of thumb, each machine tends to kill one to two birds per year."


This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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