If owners agree to limit harm, state won’t sue
Building turbines in some of the best places to harvest wind in Ohio could put millions of birds and bats – some protected by state and federal law – at risk.
That’s why the state is asking companies to sign voluntary agreements to study the risk before and after wind farms are built. And if the companies follow the rules, neither Ohio nor the feds will shut down turbines, even if thousands of animals are killed.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently sent agreements to 10 developers, and hired a wildlife biologist last week to draft rules that the companies would have to follow to limit harm.
This comes as Gov. Ted Strickland is pushing for legislation that would require alternative-energy sources, including wind, and the Ohio Department of Development is offering millions of dollars in incentives to manufacture wind-turbine parts here.
Three companies – Horizon Wind Energy, Iberdrola Renewables and Invenergy Wind – told Strickland last week that they plan to invest a total of about $2.7 billion in wind farms in Van Wert, Paulding and Champaign counties.
But their investments rely on the governor’s energy legislation, which would require renewable energy sources, including solar panels and wind turbines, to produce 12.5 percent of the state’s electricity by 2025.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said it expects to join in the state’s voluntary agreement as well.
“We would agree to work cooperatively with (companies) and not necessarily pursue court action if wildlife species are taken,” said Megan Seymour, a wildlife biologist at the agency’s Ohio field office.
Companies that sign the voluntary agreement would have to notify the state at least 18 months before building turbines. And they would have to monitor sites for as long as a year for eagles, hawks, migratory birds and bats.
Once turbines are running, the companies would monitor for as long as two years to see whether unacceptable numbers of bats and birds were killed. If so, turbines could be shut off or slowed during peak migration periods.
Environmental groups say the agreement is a good idea.
“I think the fact that Ohio’s government is getting on board with this and hiring folks to look at it is a good sign,” said Amy Gomberg of Environment Ohio.
“It’s bad for business if you hurt wildlife with … a clean-energy resource.”
There are four commercial turbines near Bowling Green, where officials say few bats and birds have been affected.
In West Virginia and Pennsylvania, thousands of bats have been killed at wind farms on mountain ridges and, recently, on farms.
In California, birds of prey have been killed by turbines built in flyways. There, some of the older turbines have been replaced with safer models, and others are shut off during peak migration.
Sean Logan, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said one of Ohio’s challenges will be Lake Erie’s western basin, a bottleneck for migrating birds and a home to bald eagles.
That’s why he hired Keith Lott, a biologist who has studied wildlife and wind turbines in the Appalachian Mountains. Lott’s job is to help draft voluntary rules for choosing sites for the turbines.
He also will provide advice and review monitoring and investigations into animal kills.
The voluntary agreement is modeled after one in Pennsylvania, which drafted its rules early last year after discovering that thousands of bats were killed at a wind farm in Meyersdale, Pa.
Biologists don’t know why bats fly into turbines, said Tracey Librandi Mumma, a wildlife biologist and wind-energy-project coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
“With birds, the potential impact on wildlife is very site specific,” Seymour said. “If you erect these in an open farm field, far from streams and wetlands, there is little impact.”
Ohio officials hope the issues are worked out soon. A lot, they say, is at stake.
The Ohio Department of Development offered about $5 million in incentives last year to companies that make wind-power components and is offering $21 million this year.
“We’re cultivating a supply chain,” said Nikki Jaworski, department spokeswoman. “There’s a two-year waiting list for a lot of these parts.”
By Kevin Mayhood and Spencer Hunt
Q: How many utility-grade wind turbines are operating in Ohio?
A: Four utility-grade turbines are on a wind farm near Bowling Green in northwestern Ohio. Each produces up to 1.8 megawatts of electricity.
Q: How many are on the way?
A: Development officials say proposals include:
• J.W. Great Lakes Wood County Wind Farm, which proposes to build 25 to 30 turbines in Wood County. The farm would produce 48 megawatts of electricity. The first turbines could be built by June 2009.
• EverPower Buckeye Wind Project, which proposes building as many as 150 turbines in Champaign and Logan counties. The turbines would produce as much as 300 megawatts. The first could go up by June 2009.
Q: What animals need to be protected?
A: About 300 species of birds and nine of bats.
Of special concern are dozens of small song and shorebirds that migrate at night. These include the Bewick’s wren, golden-winged warbler, lark sparrow, piping plover and Kirtland’s warbler.
Large raptors, including the bald eagle and the golden eagle, are protected by federal law.
Protected bats include the Indiana bat.
Q: How big are these turbines?
A: Commercial units in Iowa are 260 feet tall, have 37-ton rotors and 129-foot blades. Each turbine generates about 6.5 million kilowatt hours per year, enough to power about 750 homes.
Ohio officials expect even larger units to take advantage of the wind. If placed in Lake Erie, towers could be as tall as 500 feet.
Sources: Ohio Department of Development; Green Energy Ohio; Ohio Department of Natural Resources
26 March 2008
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