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Heartland to study its wind turbine’s effect on wildlife

NORMAL – Heartland Community College will be doing a more complete study later this year to determine if its wind turbine is killing too many birds and bats.

A similar study last fall was incomplete because a malfunction shut down the turbine before its impact on wildlife could be determined, said Heartland President Rob Widmer.

Heartland’s consultant, Midwest Environmental Consulting Services out of Yorkville, contracted with a group from Millikin University in Decatur to conduct the 2013 study as well as this fall’s study.

Unlike last year’s study, the upcoming study will be done with the land around the wind turbine site at the Normal campus cleared of vegetation. The change was recommended by the consultant when the contract was renewed in March and called for by the the John Wesley Powell Audubon Society of Bloomingon-Normal.

Most of the turbine’s construction cost was paid for with a $950,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant, which required an environmental assessment be done as part of the funding process in 2010.

As part of that assessment, the college agreed to do a voluntary, one-time, post-construction study of bird and bat deaths during their fall migration seasons.

The Audubon chapter supported the application in 2010 contingent on Heartland doing a scientifically based study, said Angelo Capparella, who is the chapter’s conservation chairman and an associate zoology professor at Illinois State University.

Both the wind power industry and Illinois Department of Natural Resources recognize that removing crops is the best scientific standard, Capparella said.

“It’s just common sense,” he added. “Basically, they get hit by the running blades so we look for dead birds or bats. If a bird lands in a cornfield or soybean field it’s very difficult to find them.”

The land around Heartland’s turbine was not cleared for the study last year because a farmer who leases the plot had crops planted that were not ready for harvest. Also, the college was instructed to use U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protocols, which do not require a clear substrate for the survey, Widmer said.

This year, the farmer has been told to plant a crop that can be harvested before the study, Widmer said.

“This is good news,” Capparella said Wednesday. “We will finally know if there is or is not any impact on birds or bats from this turbine, And, if so, then we can talk about ways to address that.”