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Commission seeks voluntary bird protection

In an effort to limit bat and bird kills by windmills, the Pennsylvania Game Commission yesterday suggested a voluntary agreement with wind-farm developers.

The proposal is an “intermediate step” in protecting birds and bats from the whirling blades, said William A. Capouillez, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management.

“It’s not quite where we want to be from a regulatory standpoint, but it’s better than what we have now,” he said. “No other state has anything similar.”

The Game Commission is charged with protecting all the state’s wildlife.

The voluntary agreement would set monitoring protocols to be followed beginning 18 months before construction and continuing after a turbine goes into operation. Important Bird Areas – designated by the Audubon Society – would get special monitoring, as would migratory routes for eagles and raptors. Wind farm developers who sign the agreements will be exempt from state liability, but not federal liability, for any incidental bird and bat kills by their turbines. All information submitted by the developers will remain exempt from public scrutiny, and either side can abandon the agreement on 45 days notice.

Even so, many of the wind developers in the audience were not warm to the idea of voluntary regulation. Bob White of AES Corp. doubted his firm would sign the agreement because it would make it impossible to get bank financing of a project.

The agreement would make it difficult to go to court if the Game Commission did something he didn’t like, he said.

Others asked that language be added stating that wind energy has good effects on some wildlife habitat and addresses global warming.

Yesterday’s session was intended mainly for the industry, although some environmental groups were represented. Kim Van Fleet, director of Important Bird Areas for Audubon-Pa., said she and other environmentalists have submitted comments to Capouillez.

“It’s a good start,” she said.

The Game Commission first confronted the wind-energy issue about a year ago, when wind developers began coveting mountain ridgetops in the state’s game lands.

But none of them followed through because of restrictions on game land wind farms put in place by the commission, he said.

The proposed voluntary agreement will be presented to the Game Commission as a resolution at its April meeting, Capouillez said. Because the agreement does not impose new regulations, it will not need state approval.

By David DeKok: 255-8173 or ddekok@patriot-news.com