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Wind turbines: Good for energy, bad for birds  

ESU hosts lecture on turbine’s effect on golden eagles

Are wind turbines the answer to reducing the world’s carbon footprint, or is the potential impact on raptors, other birds and bats too great an environmental risk?

Or, does a middle ground exist in efforts to reduce carbon emissions and keep birds such as the golden eagle in flight?

Dr. David Brandes, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Lafayette College in Easton, said, “I understand well that we are going to have to find another way to find energy, and renewable is the way to go.”

He is studying these concerns, concentrating on the golden eagle migration in the Appalachian region – a prime flyway for raptors.

“It will take a whole portfolio of resources,” said Brandes, who is not anti-wind energy but a proponent for a balance – one that protects wildlife and sites wind turbines with minimal impact.

Brandes will talk about this issue during Monroe County Environmental Education Center’s Conservation Through Education lecture series. “Appalachian Wind Energy Development and Migrating Raptors: A Collision Course?” will be presented on Monday at East Stroudsburg University.

Darryl Speicher, environmental educator at MCEEC, said, “It’s a very big issue for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has really marketed itself as a leader in wind energy development in the U.S.”

Pennsylvania is also well known for its raptor migration, which truly is a natural splendor at Hawk Mountain in Kempton during the fall and spring.

The golden eagle, which has been seen along the Delaware River and on Kittatinny Ridge, is believed to be the raptor at highest risk. Golden eagles migrate along the Allegheny Front, on the eastern edge of the Appalachian Plateau, which is also a great wind resource.

“Wind is a renewable resource, so that’s positive. No carbon emissions. No air pollution. From that standpoint, (wind turbines) are an ideal source of power,” Brandes said.

However, in Pennsylvania, the best time for turbines is the winter, yet peak power loads are in the summer, Brandes said.

And these 400-foot-tall turbines – taller than the Statue of Liberty – are land intensive. It takes 2,000 modern turbines to replace one typical coal-fired power plant, of which Pennsylvania has 25 in the commonwealth, said Brandes.

Plus, they may have an impact on habitat and bird safety.

“Generally, if the visibility is good, raptors will be able to avoid (the turbines),” Brandes said.

One look at a turbine way up on a ridge may cause the viewer to perceive that the blades are moving quite slowly, when in fact the tips can reach speeds in excess of 150 mph.

In reduced visibility or while a raptor is hunting, the birds are in particular danger. Brandes noted that at one site in California, near San Francisco, hundreds of hawks, eagles and kestrels have been killed. The site is now shut down during winter when the birds are hunting.

Speicher noted that to install wind turbines, the wildlife habitat becomes fragmented not only by the placement of the structures but the service roads that do just as much damage. “Those intersect into the largest contiguous block of forests we have left in Pennsylvania,” he said.

This may also be a detriment to the deep-forest birds, such as the northern goshawks or the neotropical migratory birds, such as the scarlet tanager. “They are getting pushed to the edge of their abilities to find habitat,” Speicher said.

Yet in spite of it all, Brandes remains optimistic. “I believe there has to be a way to design the site, such as lower on the ridge,” he said.

Last year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and wind development companies signed the Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement to provide guidance for development of wind turbine sites.

“It’s a compromise, but it is certainly better than what we had in the past, which is nothing,” Brandes said.

Ultimately, Brandes reasons that the solution is a combination of better efficiency, new sources of renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions and more.

He said, “I encourage anyone who lives near a proposed (wind turbine) site to be actively involved.”

The environment and habitat impact isn’t the only issue. These include aesthetics, noise, property values and more since most turbine farms have 10 or more turbines.

The purpose of the lecture is to bring about awareness and have the community begin a dialogue about the issue.

Brandes said, “Pennsylvania is very unique, and we should protect the resources.”

By Helen Yanulus
Pocono Record Writer

Sidebar:

ON EAGLES AND WIND ENERGY

Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

* Long-lived, up to 25 to 30 years in the wild. Takes four years to reach breeding age. Like all raptors, females (9 to 13 pounds) are larger than males (6 to 10 pounds).
* Takes a variety of prey, especially small to medium-sized mammals, but also feeds on carrion in winter.
* Found throughout the northern hemisphere. Habitat is open or semi-open, often mountainous country throughout most of western North America. A small eastern population breeds in northern Quebec, Labrador and Gaspe Peninsula and migrates through the Appalachians, wintering in the central and southern Appalachians. Formerly nested in New England and may have historically nested sparsely in the central and southern Appalachians.
* Not endangered, but listed as a vulnerable species in Pennsylvania Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.
* Migrates through Pennsylvania October-December and February-April, primarily along the mountain ridges. Best fall sites are Waggoners Gap (near Carlisle) and Allegheny Front (near Bedford). Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is also very good. The best spring site is Tussey Mountain (near State College).
* Typical peak flights during migration are 10 to 30 golden eagles in a day.
* A few golden eagles spend the winter each year with bald eagles along the upper Delaware River.

Wind energy in Pennsylvania

* Pennsylvania has an “Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard” goal of 18 percent energy from alternate sources (including wind) by 2020 (see www.puc.state.pa.us/electric/electric_alt_energy.aspx).
* There are eight commercial wind energy sites in operation in Pennsylvania. Two existing sites (Allegheny Ridge and Locust Ridge) are expanding, and two new sites will come online in Somerset County in 2008. Many more sites are in the developmental stages.
* Somerset County on the Allegheny Plateau in the southwest part of the state has the most operating and proposed sites.
* Sites range from six turbines (Somerset turnpike site) to 43 turbines (Waymart site on Moosic Mountain).
* Turbines are generally either 1.5-megawatt or 2-MW and are up to 400 feet tall.
* Wind energy developers are encouraged to sign onto the Pennsylvania Game Commissions voluntary Wind Energy Cooperative Agreement developed in 2007. This agreement sets standards for pre- and post-construction wildlife monitoring, see www.pgc.state.pa.us/pgc/cwp/view.asp?Q=171573&A=11
* For information, visit: www.awea.org/projects/projects.aspx?s=Pennsylvania.

— Information provided by Dr. David Brandes

Pocono Record

25 January 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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