HURON COUNTY – Wind turbines might be ruffling some feathers in Huron County, but bird deaths aren’t a reason for energy companies to eat crow, according to a DTE Energy spokesman.
The Huron County Planning Commission on Wednesday night discussed a Tribune article published in September: “Wind farms kill 67 eagles in Five Years.” During public discussion, DTE Program Manager Michael Serafin said that eagle fatalities are not an issue in Huron County.
“When you look at the number, it sounds startling. But, you’ve got to remember that’s over five years,” Serafin said. “I just want to pass along some information.”
Serafin said the majority of eagle deaths in the United States from wind turbines take place where there are smaller, older turbines placed in tighter concentration.
“These were poorly planned out,” Serafin said.
In contrast, the wind farms in Huron County are new era turbines, these make less of an impact for wildlife, Serafin said. They are more expensive to build, but less of a threat to birds’ flight patterns. In addition new turbines produce 10 times more energy than the older models.
Serafin said that wind turbines in place at locations such Altamont Pass in California are notorious for killing eagles and part of the reason companies now plan turbines very carefully.
“They are replacing the turbines in other areas and putting up what we have here,” Serafin said. “Those turbines spin twice as fast as what we have here.”
He added that the situation can result in more bird deaths.
Karen Cleveland, an all-bird biologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said that in Michigan energy companies must have plans in place so they know where bird populations fly before the construction of a turbine park can take place.
“The reconstruction monitoring works with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” Cleveland said. “A lot of developers are taking this very seriously.”
Cleveland said that she wasn’t aware of any eagle deaths that have occurred in Michigan as a result of turbines. There still can be deaths of other species of birds; but the impact is minimal to the environment and can even be beneficial.
“If developers tell us that they see detrimental, non-native species such as European starlings or house sparrows … then it’s a great location,” Cleveland said. “Those birds can do a lot of damage to native bird’s habitat.”
She said one of the main issues is that non-native species rip up blue bird nests.
Cleveland said the eagle deaths at Altamont Pass was a “perfect storm,” because of the way the turbines were constructed in a straight line combined with the nesting pattern of eagles in California.
In addition to the reconstruction monitoring, DTE energy will do a bird death survey in the coming months. The study will require DTE to inspect more land around the turbines. But farmers who own the land have been informed of the study and there are plans in place for the expense, Serafin said.
In other business:
• Randy Elenbaum of Gro-Green Farms raised concern that the drain code is outdated now that equipment is getting larger. He said part of the problem is that it was written in 1956 and needs an update.
• At the Echo Wind Park in Oliver, McKinley and Chandler townships, 50 out of 70 wind turbines commissioned for the project are up, according to DTE Energy.
“They are running night and day to get them up,” Serafin said.
• Sound testing for Exelon wind turbines at Michigan Wind I plus Harvest I and II wind parks took place recently, according to a zoning report.
New technology should make the turbines quieter.
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