What’s good for communications towers should be good for wind turbines, which can be 200 feet tall.
A federal court ruled last week that the Federal Communications Commission must consider the impact that communications or cellular towers have on migratory birds and allow the public time to comment on the environmental findings.
The order of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit applies to the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, where many birds migrate, but the FCC is considering a national rule.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at least 5 million and possibly as many as 50 million warblers, thrushes and other birds die every year when they become disoriented in bad weather by the con tinuously burning lights atop towers to alert airplanes. Some of the birds die by mistaking the lights for the stars that guide them and die of ex haustion by circling towers endlessly. Other birds die when they crash into the towers or their guy wires.
The use of white strobe lights could reduce the deaths by 70 percent, studies suggest.
Bird and bat deaths also have been associated with windmills. A 2004 study conducted by the California Energy Commission found that the windmills at Altamont Pass, one of the oldest and largest congregations of windmills in the country, killed between 1,700 and 4,700 birds each year. The fatalities involved as many as 116 golden eagles, 300 red-tailed hawks, 333 American kestrels and 380 burrowing owls.
The owners of the windmills have vowed to reduce the kill by 50 percent, but a story in the Oakland Tribune last month suggests that not enough has been done to achieve that reduction.
There have been reports of significant bat kills at windmill farms in the East, and studies are under way to determine their impact on raptors and other birds. But allowing the building of windmills along known migratory-bird routes down the spine of the Appalachian Mountains is an invitation to bad avian results.
Already the largest wind producer east of the Mississippi River, and with an ambitious goal of increasing wind power in the state 20-fold, Pennsylvania has a special obligation to ensure that each proposed wind farm is subject to environmental review. Such analysis must reject sites that are likely to lead to significant fatalities for birds and bats.
The sooner such a scientifically based process is in place, the sooner the state will have a set of rules by which wind developers can proceed on projects with greater predictability. At the same time, it will provide citizens with the assurance that the commonwealth’s rich natural inheritance will not be sacrificed in the name of “clean energy.”
25 February 2008
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