The Pennsylvania Game Commission is on track with plans to create what it believes is the nation’s first voluntary cooperative agreement with wind-energy developers to protect birds and bats.
Wind-energy developers and outside wildlife advocates have prepared a draft agreement that would impose rules on the fast-growing industry before irreparable damage is done to bird and bat populations, said William A. Capouillez, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management, the Game Commission.
“We have broad powers under Title 34,” Capouillez said, referring to the 1987 law that authorizes and empowers the Game Commission. “I tell them: Would you rather have the voluntary agreement or Title 34? We could do zero tolerance on bird kills.”
The Game Commission, which is an independent state agency funded by hunting license fees, has taken a hard line with the wind industry in general. In theory, a wind farm could be built on state game lands, which include many mountain ridges. But Capouillez said no developers have followed through after seeing the commission’s rules.
So far, he said, the majority of wind-energy developers operating or planning to operate in Pennsylvania say they will sign the agreement.
That is a marked change from a meeting last December, when wind-energy developers such as Bob White of AES Corp. reacted skeptically, wondering if developers could get investor financing for a project if they signed.
“I was never skeptical about what they were trying to do,” White said last week. “I didn’t think the initial agreement achieved that. They wanted to protect wildlife, but enable wind power in the right places.”
White said he did not think he could have gotten financing for a project under the initial draft agreement, but he doesn’t think that will be a problem now.
White is a project manager for AES, which is building wind farms near Ulysses, Potter County, and on Armenia Mountain on the Tioga-Bradford county line. Others in the state are pending, he said.
Wording of the final voluntary agreement is still subject to change, but Capouillez believes major changes in the draft are unlikely. Some of the draft highlights are:
# Wind-energy developers who sign the agreement commit to notifying the Game Commission at least 14 months in advance of the start of construction of a new wind farm or the addition of five or more turbines to an existing farm.
# Access to wind farms by Game Commission personnel must be provided by any developer signing the agreement, although the commission must give notice.
# Developers and the Game Commission commit to full sharing of all relevant information about bird and bat populations and migration routes in the area of a wind farm. Information provided to the commission by developers will receive the “highest affordable level” of confidentiality.
# The potential and actual effects of a wind farm on bats must be monitored for a year before and two years after construction, and detailed procedures are specified. The level of monitoring will depend on the priority level of bat colonies near the proposed wind farm and whether any endangered species of bats are present.
# Developers who sign the agreement also might be directed by the commission to monitor proposed turbine sites for migrating raptors and eagles. Detailed monitoring procedures are specified for the pre-construction and post-construction periods.
# Signing the agreement will protect developers from fines for any “incidental” bird and bat kills, although it will not protect them from federal action.
# Developers agree to take “all reasonable measures” specified by the commission if any threatened or endangered species of birds or bats are killed by the turbines.
By David DeKok
Of The Patriot-News
28 February 2007
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