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Govt seeks review of turbines plan

The Environment Ministry has urged a wind power company to review its plan to erect 15 wind turbines in northeastern Aomori Prefecture, as an environmental review compiled by the company estimated that 1,200 birds could die annually as a result of crashing into the turbines.

Kuroshio Furyoku Hatsuden, based in Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, plans to install wind turbines with a supply capacity of 34,500 kilowatts along the southern coast of Lake Jusan. It plans to start operations in March 2015, and sell the generated power to Tohoku Electric Power Co.

The brackish lake, which covers about 18 square kilometers, and the area around it are designated as an animal reserve. The area is famous as a habitat for shellfish and other aquatic life, and offers a place of rest for tens of thousands of migratory birds from Siberia, including wild geese, ducks and swans.

A number of predatory birds also come to hunt at the lake, including white-tailed eagles, which are designated as a national natural treasure, and highly endangered eastern marsh harriers, of which only dozens are believed to exist.

A draft of an environmental impact assessment review compiled by Kuroshio in August 2012 estimates that as many as 777 magan, or greater white-fronted geese, would die as a result of crashing into the turbines while they are flying to rest or feed.

Another 337 of the same species were expected to die while migrating. If fatalities among other birds, including mallards and swans, are included, the total number of estimated losses would be about 1,200, according to the draft.

Although the estimated number did not factor in the possibility of birds avoiding the turbines, the ministry released an opinion in December last year calling on the company to review construction of the turbines–essentially demanding it give up the plan.

“We believe we shouldn’t rely too much on birds avoiding the turbines, as they fly to feeding grounds even at night when visibility is poor or in bad weather,” an official of the ministry’s Office of Environment Impact Assessment Review said. The official said the expected toll on the birds was unacceptable.

Kuroshio said the number of migrant birds smashing into turbines was expected to be only about 10 a year, given the rate at which birds avoid hitting turbines.

“There’s no precedent for as many as 100 birds running into existent turbines in a year. [The ministry] should investigate the situation after the turbines are built,” a Kuroshio official said.

“If the nation lags behind the spread of wind power generation, it’ll affect the power structure of the entire nation. It’s problematic to focus solely on the right of wild birds to survive,” he said.

In October, the ministry required wind power generation companies to conduct an environmental impact assessment for wind power plants that generate more than 10,000 kilowatts. It sometimes gives strict directives on projects constructing wind power generators.

There are also plans to construct about 55 turbines about 10 kilometers southwest of Lake Jusan, with a total output of 126,500 kilowatts, one of the nation’s biggest projects. But the ministry in January demanded its operator review the positioning of the turbines.

“It’s important to promote wind power generation, but the south side of the lake is a pathway for wild birds. There’s no problem [with building turbines] on the north side of the lake. I want the operator to find a way in which birds [and turbines] can coexist,” said Aomori University of Health and Society Prof. Yocihi Watanabe, who observes wild birds around Lake Jusan as a member of the Wild Bird Society of Japan.