The Boston developer who wants to build a 300-megawatt wind farm in Buzzards Bay called the results of preliminary bird studies “encouraging” but said it is too early to determine whether threats to endangered terns that nest and feed in the bay could kill the $750 million project.
“I am fifty-percent comfortable,” said Jay Cashman of Patriot Renewables, LLC., a renewable energy subsidiary of his construction company, Jay Cashman Inc.
Nearly a year ago, Mr. Cashman told Fairhaven residents that birds were the “one thing” he feared could jeopardize the South Coast Wind project, which would plant three clusters of turbines off the coasts of Fairhaven, Dartmouth and Naushon Island, one of the Elizabeth Islands.
Patriot Renewables has since hired bird expert Richard H. Podolsky to perform avian studies in the bay. The studies will help identify bird-friendly locations for the proposed 60 to 130 turbines, which could range in height from 365 to 505 feet depending on the chosen model, according to company documents.
Since the fall of 2006, Dr. Podolsky and a team of researchers have conducted boat-based surveys of bird nesting, flying, feeding and other behaviors in five areas of the bay.
Preliminary data show there are “some very promising areas” to build turbines that would “minimize the conflict between birds and renewable energy,” Dr. Podolsky said. He warned that those areas could change depending on the results of fall waterfowl surveys that will begin in October.
Based on the results of spring and early summer surveys, Dr. Podolsky said developers should avoid placing turbines in areas that are “immediately adjacent” to three bay islands that serve as nesting grounds for endangered roseate terns and common terns, which the state lists as a species of special concern. Those islands include Bird Island, Ram Island and Penikese Island.
Dr. Podolsky presented 2007 survey data to about 40 members of the public last night at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. He said researchers are in the middle of the survey season.
“The data is wonderful,” he said. “We are learning some great stuff. We have no real conclusions. We are just seeing patterns.”
Terns have been most active between Penikese Island and Cuttyhunk Island, while there have been few sightings of the fish-eating birds in the waters off the Dartmouth coast, he said.
Most of the birds appear to be flying no more than 10 feet above the water’s surface – well below the range of the spinning turbine blades, he said.
The 2006 fall migration survey showed that 3 percent of the 3,233 observed birds flew high enough (82-feet or greater) to be within the so-called rotor height zone of the proposed turbines, according to Patriot Renewables .
Following Dr. Podolsky’s presentation, Dartmouth resident Blair Walker said she remained opposed to the wind project because the bay “is a bird sanctuary.” A supporter of wind projects in general, Ms. Walker said she would like to see this project sited further offshore.
She also challenged the scope of Dr. Podolsky’s surveys and questioned his allegiance to Patriot Renewables.
“They are paying for him, so it’s not necessarily unbiased,” she said.
Becky Harris, director of Mass Audubon’s coastal waterbird program, said Dr. Podolsky was “vague on the years and seasons” of future bird studies.
Long-term studies are necessary to catch year to year and day to day variations in bird behavior, Dr. Harris said.
Mass Audubon, which conducted its own bird studies for the proposed 420-megawatt Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, said the conservation group is waiting to see how South Coast Wind develops before making a decision on whether it will proceed with bird surveys in the bay.
By Becky W. Evans
Standard-Times staff writer
10 July 2007
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