The American Bird Conservancy recently identified what it considers to be the top 10 worst-sited existing and proposed wind power projects within the United States. Among them is Apex Clean Energy’s proposed commercial-scale Lighthouse Wind project in Somerset and Yates.
The preliminary proposal is for 60 to 70 wind turbines standing at heights of 570 feet, along a 12-mile stretch that’s about 4.5 miles inland of Lake Ontario.
ABC says those turbines would pose a great threat to the raptor population in the area as well as those migrating in over the spring and summer seasons.
According to Brett Ewald, a regional bird expert, biologist and naturalist with Lakeshore Nature Tours, raptors tend to migrate north throughout the months of January to August depending on the species of the bird. These birds travel long distances from South and Central America as well as from southern U.S. states for the mating season.
Their flight patterns tend to stay strictly over land where thermals, rising warm air, can be found to aid their long flights. Thermals allow birds to use less energy during flight by reducing the number of times they have to flap their wings; thermals helps birds soar and glide instead.
Due to the fact that thermals are found over land and not over water, raptors tend to avoid flying over large bodies of water. When birds reach the Niagara County area, they usually travel west or east of the lake. Experts say the majority travel east across the Niagara-Orleans region.
In Somerset and Yates, then, their flight pattern moves east along the lakeshore – right where Apex would erect its Lighthouse Wind installation.
For raptors and songbirds, “It could potentially be a bloodbath,” Ewald said. “The number one most dramatic effect turbines could have is the killing of the raptors.”
Due to the high speeds of the turbines, birds would be unable to gauge the duration of blades spinning and they would likely come too close to the blades, Ewald said. Birders know of other wind turbine installations where nesting red tailed hawks have been killed.
Wind turbines could pose less of a threat to raptors if the turbines and their wing spans were shorter than those proposed by Apex, according to Ewald. Shorter turbines would still pose a threat to migrating birds, though.
“It’s important not to place a turbine project in the migration pathway, because they could have a detrimental effect no matter the size of the turbines,” Ewald said.
The American Bird Conservatory says that wind energy facilities and their associated infrastructure result in the deaths of, at minimum, thousands of federally protected birds every year. The number will climb into the millions as wind power is fully built out, it warns.
“Our wildlife should not be collateral damage in our effort to combat climate change, nor does it have to be,” says Michael Hutchins, director of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign.
Vast numbers of songbirds and raptors congregate within 6 miles of the Lake Ontario shoreline during spring and fall. ABC notes that in the Somerset-Yates area, there are also pockets of key habitat for sensitive grassland birds that could be displaced by the turbines, and federally protected Bald Eagles from a nearby wildlife refuge are also at risk.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concerns about Lighthouse Wind, warning Apex that the area on which it wants to build is one of very high avian use, according to ABC.
Apex has conducted its own studies of the area but Ewald says they were not extensive enough. In his opinion, the developer’s studies did not cover enough days, or long-enough seasons, and did not deal with changing flight paths. The result, he says, is the Apex studies dramatically undercount what’s coming in and out of the area.
Lighthouse Wind development manager Taylor Quarles responded to Ewald’s complaint last week by saying Apex is conducting ongoing “robust avian migration studies using both radar detection and diurnal observation techniques” in accordance with recommendations of both the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Once all avian studies are complete, Quarles said, the data will be analyzed as it relates to species documented, numbers documented, passage rates and so on. The analysis will look for spatial, temporal, seasonal and annual differences in use, and species-specific risk concerns; and make comparisons with other wind project sites and known raptor migration concentration areas.
“All of the results help us to make informed decisions on turbine siting and to identify risk periods that may warrant monitoring to operational adjustments to minimize risk of impact,” Quarles said.
To help the Town of Somerset be assured that accurate data is being obtained, the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory is working with residents to count the birds coming in and out of the area and gain knowledge of the extent of the bird population. Four watch sites have been set up, near the intersection of County Line Road and Lakeshore Road, along County Line Road north of Route 18, County Line cemetery and north of Hall Road.
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