The state’s top environmental official yesterday defended the Rendell administration’s strong support for wind energy, despite complaints from people who say unregulated wind farms harm the environment.
Opponents of wind farms in Bedford and Somerset counties say turbines can usually be built anywhere, because few rural townships have zoning ordinances and no real state regulation exists.
Bird experts say industry studies minimize bird deaths, but the studies have not been submitted for peer review by independent scientists.
Kathleen McGinty, head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said wind farms must receive a state permit to disturb the soil. She also pointed to industry-sponsored studies that show the impact on migratory birds is “dramatically” minimal.
“There was that unfortunate episode in West Virginia, a large bat kill,” McGinty said. “That was an aberration. I’m not aware of any other large-scale loss of bat life.”
The bat kill occurred in 2003 at the Mountaineer Wind Farm in West Virginia owned by FPL Energy, a division of Florida Power & Light. FPL also owns wind farms in Somerset and Wayne counties in Pennsylvania.
Bird experts initially allowed in by FPL were expelled from the site after they recommended changing the “feathering” of the turbine blades to minimize bat deaths.
Frank Maisano is a spokesman for several wind-energy developers in the mid-Atlantic region, including FPL Energy. He said the 2003 bat kill at Mountaineer came as “a bit of a surprise” to the industry, which hadn’t seen similar bat kills elsewhere.
Re-feathering wind turbines – essentially changing the angle at which the blade turns – is difficult to do in an economical manner after the turbine is built, Maisano said.
McGinty said that if bird groups have evidence of harm to migratory birds, they need to present it for examination.
“I have a long and profound commitment to the environment,” she said, adding that she has launched a collaborative effort with Pennsylvania Audubon representatives to study the issue.
McGinty spoke during a teleconference sponsored by the Environmental Alliance, which released a report that calls for more aggressive efforts to promote alternative energy.
By David DeKok, of The Patriot-News: 255-8173 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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