RAWLINS – The Chokecherry-Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project south of Rawlins is slowly moving through a bureaucratic maze of environmental impact and assessment studies.
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have tentative timelines to complete their respective analysis, it is uncertain when construction will begin.
Heather Schultz, BLM’s project manager for the wind farm project, said her agency is currently working on an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the wind farm’s infrastructure that includes the primary access road, rail facility and gravel quarry.
“We are hoping to have a decision on EA 1 by mid-summer,” Schultz said. “We are hoping to have a decision on Phase I – the construction of the first 500 turbines – (EA 2) by August or September. Phase II (EA 3) – the construction of the second group of 500 turbines – is really down the road right now. At this point we haven’t even started on that.”
When fully built, the 1,000-wind turbines at Chokecherry will produce up to 3,000 megawatts of clean energy.
“We filed our right of way application with the BLM in 2008, so it’s been under federal permitting review for quite a while,” said Kara Choquette, communications director for the project proponent, the Power Company of Wyoming (PCW). “The permitting process really drives the overall schedule.”
Later this year the PCW will apply for a permit with the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council that oversees construction of wind energy projects with 30 or more turbines.
The latest data found on the American Wind Industry Association’s website states that more than 12,000 megawatts of wind power projects were under construction in 2013. The association also added that actual wind production in 2012 reduced domestic CO2 emissions by 80 million tons.
Though helping to reduce greenhouse gasses, wind farms do impact bird populations including bald and golden eagles.
A 2013 study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that from 1997 to 2012 at least 85 eagles were killed by 32 wind energy installations across 10 states. Wind farms in California and Wyoming were responsible for 58 deaths, followed by facilities in Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Texas, Maryland and Iowa.
Other threats to eagle survival include leadshot poisoning from feeding off dead animals shot with lead bullets to electrocution as eagles perch upon high-voltage power poles and inadvertently touch the power source and ground at the same time. According to the American Eagle Foundation electrocution is among the top five causes of bald eagle deaths.
Additional threats occur from poaching, habitat destruction, predator attacks on eagle eggs, and the mortality rate among young eagles. The chance of a juvenile bald eagle surviving its first year of life is less than 50 percent.
Its not just eagles falling prey to wind turbines that spin at speeds reaching up to 170 mph, it affects all avian species.
A 2009 study conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, reported that approximately 20,000 birds in the U.S. were killed from wind farms. In comparison, more than 300,000 birds were killed by nuclear power plants, and more than 14 million were killed by fossil-fueled power plants.
Although still under development, the PCW’s application for an eagle take permit with the Fish and Wildlife Service will detail conservation efforts to minimize the deaths to Wyoming’s eagle population.
“The key is that this is a document that has been under development since 2010,” Choquette said. “It’s a very long and detailed process; not simply just the act of filing a piece of paper.”
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