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Panel: Ducks don't dodge turbines

Migratory birds have a relatively safe trek across the Midwest, but unless the government intervenes thousands of those birds could be reduced to puffs of feathers drifting down from the blades of wind power turbines, wildlife advocates say.

The birds often fly headlong into wind power devices, leaving behind victims with “severed beaks” and “mid-body separation,” said Michael Daulton, of the National Audubon Society.

The placement for wind power facilities is largely regulated by state and local governments. But a panel of witnesses told a House Natural Resources wildlife subcommittee Tuesday that the federal government should play a bigger role in deciding if the facilities are a threat to wildlife, especially birds and bats.

“We actually have video of bats chasing slow-moving turbines,” Mr. Daulton said.

Missouri’s first wind farm is under construction in King City, about 30 miles northeast of St. Joseph. The Blue Grass Ridge Wind Farm will comprise 24 turbines with rotor blades that cover an area of 290 feet in diameter, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The project is a part of the Wind Capital Group, John Deere Wind Energy and the Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

Dean Baumgardner, senior vice president of development and operations for Wind Capital, said the turbine project in northwest Missouri should not pose a risk for birds.

“I think a well-sited wind turbine is not a threat to avian wildlife,” he said. “But poorly sited turbines can be.”

Currently, the panel in Washington said, the wind power industry judges for itself whether sites are safe for wind turbines. The key is to avoid placement in in the established flyways of migrating birds.

“Without any support, the windmill industry has no incentive to improve their facilities and reduce bird mortalities,” said Michael Fry, of the American Bird Conservancy, an advocacy group.

According to a 2005 Government Accountability Office study, more than 2,000 bats were killed by wind turbines within a year in eastern West Virginia and more than 1,000 birds were killed in the same way in northern California. But other wind farms do far less damage because they are not in line with migration routes, the report said.

The GAO and the panel agreed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should have jurisdiction over wind power facility placement. The subcommittee took no action Tuesday, but plans additional hearings on wind farms and wildlife.

The GAO, an arm of Congress, suggested that Fish and Wildlife provide state and municipal agencies with information to help them make such decisions. And the subcommittee panel argued the government should withhold subsidies for facilities on sites that don’t meet government guidelines.

But opponents said the government should not regulate facilities without proof that better wind farm location would keep birds and bats out of the way. Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, said sweeping changes in the wind power industry might not help bats, who are drawn to the sound of the turbines ““ and often, to their deaths.

Besides, he argued, legislation does not require protection of bats as it does migratory and endangered birds.

“I think I’m correct in saying that bats are not migratory birds, and you wouldn’t regulate them under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” he said.

By Christopher Peterson


1 May 2007