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N.D. regulators: wind projects may endanger cranes  

Facing a huge increase in North Dakota’s number of wind towers, state regulators promised to pay close attention to the projects’ potential effects on the whooping crane, a huge bird in danger of extinction.

“We generally aren’t happy until you are,” Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer told Jeffrey Towner, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife field supervisor in Bismarck, and Terry Ellsworth, an agency wildlife biologist, at a commission meeting Tuesday.

Most of North Dakota’s wind energy projects are outside the normal migratory path that whoopers take from Canada to Texas each year, wildlife officials say.

Those include a planned 200-megawatt project in Barnes County, east of Lake Ashtabula, and a separate development in Griggs and Steele counties in east central North Dakota.

However, FPL Energy LLC, of Juno Beach, Fla., recently announced plans to spend $2 billion constructing 667 wind turbines in Oliver and Morton counties that will be capable of generating 1,000 megawatts of power. The project sits in the birds’ flyway, Towner said.

“It’s an unfortunate convergence of nature, I guess, but we have the high wind potential in the state very closely overlapping this very valuable area of duck nesting habitat and the whooping crane migration corridor,” Towner said.

FPL does not intend to file its request for a sitting permit until July 2009, and the project is not likely to be finished before December 2012, the company says.

The Fish & Wildlife Service has suggested guidelines to try to minimize the effects on whoopers, ducks and other migratory birds, Towner and Ellsworth said.

Among those are avoiding external ladders and platforms on towers – which birds can use to nest – and burying electrical transmission lines so that birds cannot strike them. Birds are killed by power lines much more frequently than by modern wind turbine blades, Towner said.

The Fish & Wildlife Service often contacts wind developers once it hears of projects, and agency officials would like to be approached early in a wind farm’s planning process, Towner said.

Federal involvement in a project isn’t required unless it has a federal “nexus,” meaning that the wind farm needs a federal license or permit, or federal aid is used to build it. Federal tax incentives for wind projects are not counted.

“For many of these projects that don’t have a federal nexus … it seems like they’re pursuing their goals and they come to us at some point, when they may be way down the road in terms of site selection and so forth,” Towner said. “The earlier we can get in on the conversation, the better.”

Towner said he did not believe bird protection requirements would inhibit the development of wind farms. “We think we can do both things,” he said.

The Public Service Commission is in charge of determining the locations of a wind farm’s wind towers and power lines if the project will be capable of generating at least 100 megawatts.

Susan Wefald, the commission president, said the commission would be willing to share information it receives about planned wind projects with the Fish & Wildlife Service.

“At least it would give you a start at the beginning, when the commission learns about projects, to also learn about those projects at the front end,” Wefald told Towner and Ellsworth.

Dale Wetzel

Associated Press

in-forum.com

16 July 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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