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Concerns over raptors trigger changes to Rim Rock wind project

NaturEner has announced changes to the Rim Rock Wind Farm northwest of Shelby after concerns were raised about the impact to raptors and their habitat in the area.

The Rim Rock Wind Farm is currently under construction on private lands near an area known as Kevin Rim.

Kevin Rim has been known to harbor up to 60 active nests of 10 raptor species in a given year.

Montana Audubon says that 10 species of raptors have been documented to breed at Kevin Rim, including ferruginous hawks, Swainson’s hawks, prairie falcons, and golden eagles. The area is also home to nesting American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, great-horned owls, and burrowing owls.

At the urging of Montana Audubon, NaturEner has agreed to relocate 25 wind turbines to provide a buffer of approximately ½ mile from historic and active raptor nests.

NaturEner and Montana Audubon have written a Memorandum of Understanding to formalize their agreement.

The agreement calls for NaturEner to continue regular monitoring of turbine locations; conduct bi-weekly raptor point-count surveys; conduct post-construction monitoring mortality surveys for birds and bats; click here to read the complete document (PDF).

Construction began on the the Rim Rock Wind Farm in August 2011 and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012, with a name-plate rated capacity of 189 megawatts and a total expected annual electrical generation of approximately 662,000 MWh.

As the project was being developed, Montana Audubon raised concerns about whether the turbine locations would be far enough from raptor nests to limit the potential for displacement and/or disturbance of the nests.

Although guidelines developed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service do not specify a setback distance, NaturEner consulted with the USFWS and Montana Audubon in an effort to reach common ground regarding turbine placement.

In a press release, Steve Hoffman of Montana Audubon said, “Montana Audubon applauds the response of NaturEner. They listened to our recommendations, and agreed to relocate 25 wind turbines in the Rim Rock wind project. These changes have occurred late in the process, after construction had begun and at great expense to NaturEner.”

Jose Sanchez Seara, the CEO of NaturEner Rim Rock Wind Energy, said, “NaturEner recognizes the valuable contributions and recommendations of Montana Audubon during the development of the Rim Rock project, particularly its advice and counsel regarding wind turbine setback requirements from historic and existing raptor nests.”