Bird watchers might be the single group of people most worried about the environmental impact of wind farms.
The Appalachian Mountain ridges in Bedford and Somerset counties, where developers hope to build many wind turbines, are prime migration routes for scores of raptor, songbird and insect species, said nature writer and birder Scott Weidensaul, who lives in western Schuylkill County.
“They are one of the world’s great migratory bird pathways,” Weidensaul said. “It’s not just hawks. Everything flies down those ridges – butterflies, dragonflies, owls.”
Tens of millions of songbirds fly down the mountain ridges of Pennsylvania at night during migrations, he said. They are drawn to tall, lighted objects, whether communication towers or wind turbines. Some hit the towers; some hit the spinning blades.
Weidensaul, 47, is the author of about two dozen books, including the Pulitzer-nominated “Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds,” published in 1999 by North Point Press. He is a former board member of Audubon-Pennsylvania, leaving because of term limits, and still serves on the Bird Conservation Committee of the state organization.
His involvement with the wind-farm issue for Audubon-Pennsylvania dates to the opening of the first commercial wind farm in the state in 2001. That farm is along the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Somerset.
The Appalachian Mountain ridges in Pennsylvania are often foggy or misty during the spring and fall migration periods, forcing the birds to fly lower, down to the level of the 375-foot turbines, Weidensaul said. Considerable carnage can result, he said, although the wind industry disputes this.
He wonders what will happen when the mountain ridges are occupied by hundreds or even thousands of wind turbines. And he is skeptical of studies financed by the wind industry that claim one bird death per turbine annually. They are not peer-reviewed studies, Weidensaul said.
Another concern is that development of wind power in Pennsylvania will fragment some of the last large tracts of forest, which are primarily on mountain ridges. These are critical habitat for nesting songbirds, such as the cerulean warbler and the wood thrush.
“I’m not a NIMBY person,” Weidensaul said, referring to the phrase “not in my backyard.”
“I’ve been preaching the dangers of climate change for a long time,” he said. “But wind development by itself will not solve that. I’d feel better about it if I thought it would do any good. But if you developed all the Pennsylvania areas that are good for wind, it would only keep pace with growth in [electricity] demand.”
The aggressive development of wind power in Pennsylvania is “mostly about tax credits” and “letting people feel good about their energy,” Weidensaul said. If everyone in Pennsylvania installed two compact fluorescent bulbs in place of more power-hungry incandescent bulbs in their homes, it would accomplish as much as wind, he said.
Frank Maisano of Bracewell & Guiliani, a Houston law firm, is a spokesman for an informal coalition of wind-energy developers in the mid-Atlantic region, including FPL Energy and PPM Energy, which own or hope to build wind farms in Pennsylvania.
“We’re not finding that to be a relevant issue,” Maisano said of birds killed by wind turbines. “To date, it has not been a factor.”
Maisano formerly represented the Global Climate Coalition, which argued against regulation of activities that might contribute to global warming. He also has represented the MTBE industry in the controversy over groundwater contaminated by the gasoline additive, as well as the electric-power industry in fighting tougher air-pollution rules.
He referred detailed questions on the bird issue to Paul Kerlinger, an ornithologist in Cape May, N.J., who, on his Curry & Kerlinger Web site, bills his firm as “consultants to the wind power industry on birds and other wildlife issues.”
Kerlinger could not be reached for comment.
Maisano then e-mailed some of the consultant’s testimony on the bird issue in West Virginia.
Kerlinger, who is controversial in the wildlife community for his industry work, testified in 2005 that the number of birds killed by wind turbines is “less than the number of birds killed by transmission lines, windows, motor vehicles, communication towers, cats, hay mowing, etc.”
By David DeKok: 255-8173 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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