The second commercial-scale wind farm approved in North Carolina may harm as many as 20 bald eagles per year, according to a preliminary estimate that developer Invenergy LLC said has not been proven accurate.
Invenergy affiliate Pantego Wind Energy was approved on March 8 to build a 49-turbine wind farm with up to 80 MW of capacity in Beaufort County, N.C., pending the submission of an avian and bat protection plan prepared in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The project site is adjacent to the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and, in approving the project, the North Carolina Utilities Commission also required Invenergy to prepare a post-construction monitoring and adaptive management plan, a letter for the commission summarizing ongoing consultation with wildlife agencies, and an updated site layout.
But opponents of the project believe more evaluation prior to choosing the site could have prevented the threat to wildlife. The Southern Environmental Law Center said in a May 15 letter to the FWS that Invenergy chose the project site without proper evaluation of environmental conflicts.
“A minimal Tier One or Tier Two inquiry would have revealed this clear conflict given the recent controversy,” the letter said. “Indeed, the company initiated its studies to characterize the bird use and potential impact to birds at the site only after choosing the site. If the proponent had followed the [FWS]’s recommended tiered approach to siting land-based wind facilities, it would have avoided this site as a designated important bird area on its own initial investigation.”
Invenergy, however, said it did use the tiered approach to select suitable sites for wind development in North Carolina and continues to use the tiered approach in assessing potential wildlife impacts at project sites, according to the company’s vice president of development, David Groberg. Additionally, Groberg said in a May 24 email, it is too early to draw any conclusions from wildlife survey data and the company is in the midst of its consultations with FWS.
“We are going to wait until we have all the facts and data and have an opportunity to discuss them with the FWS before we make any decisions,” Groberg said. “Whatever decision we make will be science-based. Invenergy is committed to avoiding, minimizing and mitigating potential impacts to wildlife and natural resources at all of our wind farms. We firmly believe that it is possible to build and operate wind projects in coastal North Carolina in a manner that protects and conserves the region’s significant natural resources.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center’s letter cited information Invenergy provided to the FWS based on survey data gathered between November 2011 and March 2012. The law center said the FWS, using its “Version 2 Model” and Invenergy’s data, calculated that Pantego could kill between three and 30 bald eagles annually.
“The presence of several active bald eagle nests in the vicinity of the project and the determination that the project will likely take substantial numbers of bald eagles is significant new information,” the SELC said in the letter, requesting to remain informed and involved in any application for an eagle take permit for the project on behalf of the National Audubon Society, Audubon North Carolina, Defenders of Wildlife, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and Friends of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
But Grobert said the bald eagle model the FWS used to calculate Pantego’s potential take is new and has not been tested for accuracy.
“Both FWS and [the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission] staff have publicly acknowledged the significant uncertainty surrounding these preliminary modeling results,” Grobert said. “It is unfortunate that a FWS staff member released these initial estimates before Invenergy and FWS had an opportunity to analyze the results, evaluate the model and develop avoidance and minimization measures. The fact is that there are thousands and thousands of wind turbines operating around the United States, and so far, the Fish and Wildlife Service is aware of only five instances where bald eagles have been killed or injured by wind turbines. That said, Invenergy takes these issues seriously and we will continue to work diligently with FWS and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to evaluate risks to bald eagles at Pantego.”
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