Endangered whooping cranes and other, more common migratory bird species, are facing a growing threat from the rapidly expanding wind turbine industry according to a warning this week issued by the American Bird Conservancy.
The warning is ominous for efforts to establish a new migration route for the whooping cranes that annually crosses much of The Daily Journal region.
Since 1999 Operation Migration has been leading an annual fall flight of young whooping cranes from their nursery in north central Wisconsin to a winter sanctuary in Florida.
Many of flights, led by ultralight pilots, have guided the young cranes across LaSalle, Grundy, Kankakee and Iroquois counties in Illinois and Newton and Jasper counties in Indiana.
Many of the adult birds have been sighted making their return flights in both Illinois and Indiana.
Yet the threat is growing according to Kelly Fuller, ABA’s wind program coordinator.
“Golden eagles, whooping cranes, and greater sage-grouse are likely to be among the birds most affected by poorly planned and sited wind projects,” said Fuller. “Unless the government acts now to require that the wind industry respect basic wildlife safeguards, these three species will be at ever greater risk.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more than 400,000 birds are killed each year after being struck by the fast-moving blades of wind turbines.
“This figure is expected to rise significantly, and will likely eventually pass the million mark as wind power becomes increasingly ubiquitous under a Department of Energy plan to supply 20 percent of America’s power through wind by 2030,” Fuller said.
ABA also warns that another threat to the birds comes from the new transmission lines built connect wind farms to the power grid.
Illinois is already home to 25 wind farms that generate more than 1,800 megawatts of power annually – about as much as the two nuclear power generators at Braidwood.
Thirteen major wind power companies are located in the Chicago region, including E.ON Climate and Renewables of North America according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
E.ON is building a 94-turbine Settlers Trail Wind Farm near Sheldon and has received approval for the Iroquois County portion of a 97-turbine installation in southern Iroquois and northern Ford counties.
Included on the ELPC list of 104 wind power firms is Angel Wind Energy of Onarga which markets wind generators and solar units for home, agricultural and commercial applications.
Not listed are other local firms including Skyview Renewable Energy, a wind power firm owned by Jonathan Schultz, of Limestone, or Eagle Wind Solar Power, a partnership of Tony Perry, of Bourbonnais, and Richard Michniak, of Pembroke Township, in manufacturing, selling and installing small residential wind generator systems.
Mark Daulton, director of conservation policy for the National Audubon Society agrees that alternative energy sources like wind power are essential as part of a solution to global warming.
“Global warming threatens birds and wildlife in many ways,” Daulton said. “Birds and wildlife will face losses of habitat due to sea level rise, more frequent and severe wildfires, loss of prey species, flooding and droughts, increased invasive species, changes in vegetation and precipitation, and loss of snow and ice, and other significant ecological changes.
“On balance, Audubon strongly supports wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming.”
But he warns that “each individual wind project, however, has a unique set of circumstances and should be evaluated on its own merits.”
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