What happens when one environmental interest interferes with another environmental interest? That is the question being looked at by Audubon interests, especially in the areas close to the Lake Erie shoreline, and wind power interests looking to promote green energy sources in the same area.
Monday, Kim Kaufman of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory brought together a number of birding experts and interested parties to the Lake Erie Shores Visitor Center to discuss the impact of wind turbines on migrating birds.
“Our primary concern is, of course, bird mortality from direct collisions with the turbines as well as indirect loss related to displacement and avoidance,” she said.
However, their concerns do not end there.
“Over the last five years, BSBO has also taken a leadership role in promoting this area as a prime ecotourism destination to bird watchers around the world and the economic impact on this region,” she said. She estimated the impact during the months of April and May upwards of $20 million.
To support their concerns, three experts were asked for input. First was Ted Eubanks, who founded an ecotourism consulting firm in Galveston, Texas. He worked with former Visitor’s Bureau Director Brenda Huntley in developing the concept of tourism opportunities here because of the intense migratory bird arrivals and departures in the spring and fall of the year.
“We don’t have to build anything here, just protect it,” Eubanks said.
Also speaking was Bill Evans of Ithaca, N.Y., a leading authority on bird strike issues who has specialized in studying nocturnal bird migration.
“There has been exaggeration on both sides of this issue, but people first started noticing the impact of wind turbines out in California when they started losing 1 percent of the golden eagle population annually,” he said. “Wind turbines came east in the late 1990s, and that industry has kind of adopted a ‘build and see’ mentality. What they found was there was an impact here affecting song birds like warblers and threshers and the like.” He noted that there was also a negative impact on bats. Evans proposes keeping wind turbines away from the lake shore.
Keith Lott of the ODNR Division of Wildlife noted that there are roughly 60 “major” proposed wind turbine projects looking to begin in Ohio right now. And more than 80 “single turbine” projects that are not commercial grade. The vetting process for those two are vastly different. The major wind farm projects need to go through an extensive licensing and environmental impact process from the state. In the case of individual turbines placed on private property, local zoning laws and ordinances apply and not necessarily in all cases.
Dan Boone, a wildlife biologist from Maryland told the gathering that Ohio would need more than 100,000 750-kilowatt wind turbines to satisfy 10 percent of the state’s demand for electricity. He concluded that wind turbines in Ohio cost twice as much to install and yield half of the electricity compared to national averages.
Local entrepreneur John Fellhauer representing Sandusky-based SUREnergy, talked about setting up a wind turbine at Clay High School in Oregon, 2 miles from the Lake and 9 miles from the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. He noted that when they are finished, their $1 million project would generate 95 percent of the school system’s needs. This year, Fellhauer’s company also installed turbines at Huron High School and in the Margaretta School District.
In focus is the area identified by ODNR as possessing the most intense migratory bird activity. Kaufman’s major concern was that wind turbines were just “popping up” all over the lakeshore landscape without any process for judging the environmental impact on local bird populations. She has offered a series of seven steps to rein in the proliferation of wind turbines close to Lake Erie. First and foremost, she would like to see a three-year moratorium on additional wind turbines within 3 miles of the Lake Erie Shoreline, including Sandusky Bay. She would like to buy some time until research on nocturnal migrating bird populations can be studied. She noted that she wanted to work cooperatively with business interests, such as SUREnergy, to facilitate the time to study the issue.
She also proposes a permanent ban on any wind turbines 300 feet or higher within the zones of highest concern as identified by the ODNR, a zone that includes virtually all of Ottawa County except for the far western edge. When asked “who would enforce these moratoriums,” nobody knew the answer.
“We need to begin a process to study the impacts these structures could have on the local avian population,” Kaufman said.
Part of that process could include radar studies emanating from Bowling Green State University that could be done during the three-year moratorium timeframe. Fellhauer and Bryan Rathbun representing SUREnergy categorically opposed the moratorium.
Wind Energy vs. Wildlife conservation. The door to dialogue has been opened. At stake could be industrial development of wind turbines in Ottawa County and the near $20 million economic impact of eco-tourism dollars generated by bird watchers who come from all over the world. Can the two environmentally positive forces live and work together? The issue is in doubt.
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