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Wind power poses problems

CARROLL TOWNSHIP –While the number of small, residential wind turbines in Ottawa County is rising, large commercial-use wind turbines are still few and far between, and it appears commercial wind farms will not be on the horizon anytime soon.

“Our first rule in siting when it comes to wildlife is we don’t place it in those areas,” said Emily Sautter, wind program manager for Green Energy Ohio, an industry group that promotes renewable energy in the state. “Utilities development will not happen in that area.”

Kim Kauffman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, said her organization isn’t against wind power, but think that using it near the sensitive area where millions of migratory birds pass through each year is a terrible idea.

“We don’t believe they’re suitable for many areas of Ottawa County,” she said. “It’s a complex issue that impacts not just birds, but businesses.”

Kauffman said she is not concerned so much about the dozens of smaller, residential turbines that are rising across Ottawa County, because they generally don’t pose a significant threat to migrating birds.

“It’s when you start to get 100, 200, 300 feet into the air column that you have to be concerned,” she said. “And it’s not just little songbirds, it’s bald eagles, osprey, hawks and swans.”

Keith Lott, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed with Kauffman that wind turbine placements in areas heavily traveled by migrating birds is not a good idea.

“They really just don’t see them,” Lott said of the many night-migrating birds. “Any light at night also attracts migrating birds.”

Creatures don’t necessarily have to be struck by the spinning turbine blades to be injured, or killed, he said.

At the tips, the air-speed of commercial turbine blades can reach 130 mph.

“Barotrauma can cause bats’ lungs to hemorrhage,” he said, citing bats’ flying too close to the fast-moving blades, which create enormous pressure.

Lott, who worked on a bird and bat mortality study at a series of commercial wind turbines in West Virginia as a graduate student, said one turbine killed more than 400 birds alone during a year.

Despite conventional thinking when it comes to turbine size and bird mortality, where smaller turbine size equals safer turbines for birds, an American bald eagle was killed in June at Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hill, Md.

The turbine and the blades have since been removed while officials evaluate the installation.

“It’s the first that I know of,” said Meagan Racey, a USFWS spokeswoman. “Right now it’s a very unique piece of data. It’s a very interesting case.”

Precautions taken for installations include the use of monopole towers, no guy-wires, isolation from areas heavily traveled by birds and use of studies to identify peak bird activity periods.

According to Sautter, there are more than 100 residential turbines in northwest Ohio.

Commercial turbines number about 214.

In comparison, the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power station produces about 900 megawatts.

Despite the fact the shores of Lake Erie in Ontario are dotted with hundreds of commercial wind turbines, there is little that can be done to prevent their operation or construction.

“They’re just not regulated,” she said.

In March, the Obama administration and five states, not including Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin, signed an agreement to speed up consideration of plans for offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes.

There are currently a handful of larger, privately owned wind turbines in Ottawa County.

Despite Kauffman’s reservations about future wind farms, it’s likely large clusters of commercial turbines won’t be coming to Ottawa County, or at least the northern portion, anytime soon.

“Wind turbines just do not belong in this area of the Western Basin,” she said.