The wind-energy industry is objecting to federal legislation that seeks to protect birds and bats from wind turbines, arguing the measure would place unnecessary burdens on clean-energy projects.
The Energy Policy Reform and Revitalization Act, a wide-ranging energy bill introduced this month, would create new standards for the placement and construction of turbines and mandate post-construction monitoring of their effects on wildlife.
Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind Associates, the Boston-based firm proposing 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, said his company already has performed much of the due diligence contemplated in the bill.
But he said he was concerned about a provision that would forbid construction of new turbines until the Department of the Interior drafts the regulations prescribed by the bill.
“Any kind of de facto moratorium on renewable energy at a time we need to take action on global warming and energy independence is blatantly poor public policy,” he said.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, calls for development of the regulations within six months of passage of the bill. But wind energy industry officials say they are skeptical that federal regulators will move that quickly.
Supporters of the bill said careful regulation is important with a relatively new industry.
“I think, from our perspective, setting reasonable federal standards for the development of new energy resources makes sense,” said Charles Vinick, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the chief opponent of the Cape Wind proposal.
The bill, which touches on everything from gas and oil drilling to solar power, is scheduled for a committee vote next Wednesday, said Allyson Groff, a spokeswoman for the Committee on Natural Resources.
Rahall said, in a statement, that he is open to changes.
“The provisions contained in H.R. 2337 are not anti-wind, but rather, are aimed at allowing this industry to grow in a manner that is compatible with federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act,” Rahall said.
“With this noted, however, these provisions are not locked in stone,” he added, “and I will be working with interested members (of Congress) to seek to address their concerns.”
The perils of wind turbines made national news when the Altamont Pass Wind Farm, one of the first in the world, killed large numbers of birds after operations began in California in 1981.
The industry has made several adjustments since then, building larger turbines, spaced farther apart, with slower-rotating blades and smooth surfaces not suitable for perching.
A recent study released by the National Research Council found that fewer than 0.003 percent of human-related bird deaths are caused by wind turbines – a fraction of the deaths caused by house cats allowed to roam outside. The council is part of the National Academies, which also comprise the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter.
Gregory Wetstone, senior director of government and public affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said the wind industry takes the issue of bird mortality seriously.
But the wind provisions of the Rahall bill could scare away investment, he said. “This would strangle wind power in the United States,” Wetstone said.
By David Scharfenberg
30 May 2007
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