Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argue that Apex Clean Energy must secure more updated information to assess the Galloo Island wind project’s potential wildlife impacts.
In a letter to the Public Service Commission signed by David A. Stilwell, supervisor for the service’s New York field office, officials encouraged Apex Clean Energy to coordinate with the service and other environmental agencies and include more recent studies in its project application for the state Article 10 law review process. Officials claim in the letter that some of the developer’s proposed materials are either outdated or lack the scope needed to assess the project’s potential effects, particularly the effects on birds and bats.
“In general, we have concerns about siting a project in a unique habitat such as an island and in an area adjacent to Little Galloo,” said Tim R. Sullivan, a service biologist who was in charge of submitting the final draft of the letter. “It’s important for the life cycle of colonial waterbirds.”
Officials sent the letter to the PSC Friday in response to the developer’s stipulation agreements with several state agencies regarding what it would include in its Article 10 application, but the deadline for comments was June 19. Mr. Sullivan said the letter had to be reviewed before it was sent to the PSC, delaying its submission.
Neil T. Habig, a senior director of project development with Apex Clean Energy, said developer staff members intend to provide a “detailed and lengthy discussion” responding to the comments from service officials in its project application. The developer plans to build 30 turbines, with each 3.6-megawatt turbine just under 600 feet high, for its project.
“In short, we agree with some of the service comments and differ on others,” Mr. Habig said.
Apex Clean Energy proposed to include radar studies from 2008 in its project application along with a 2013 radar study from the service involving avian movement in the Great Lakes region, which led officials to believe the developer planned to compare their results.
In addition to using different technology and methods, officials argued against these comparisons because the 2008 studies, they argued in the letter, were outdated. Officials also argued that the people tasked with conducting these studies collected data in the middle of the migration period, missing crucial times when birds and bats flew across the area. Mr. Sullivan said the metrics used in the 2008 studies don’t account for the turbine specifications for Apex Clean Energy’s version of the project, therefore leaving out potential risk areas.
“We agree with the service that the Galloo work is not comparable to the 2013 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) work, though that is not what is proposed in the stipulations,” Mr. Habig said. “There was no suggestion or intention that the Galloo and (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) studies be directly compared.”
Service officials recommended that the PSC require additional contemporary radar studies or require Apex Clean Energy to include both the service’s 2013 spring radar study and its radar study for avian migration in Great Lakes region conducted in fall 2016.
Data collected for the fall 2016 radar study, according to the letter, led officials to believe that migrant flying animals have a “high likelihood” of interacting with turbines built along the Great Lakes because more animals were found along the shore of Lake Michigan than inland, a finding they found “likely to be true” across all Great Lakes. The finding, however, may change pending publication. Data also suggested strong nighttime migration across Lake Ontario, with study sites in Jefferson County showing a higher overall target passage rate than the other sites.
“In reference to our radar studies, we have not discussed them in depth with (Apex Clean Energy),” Mr. Sullivan said. “Should they choose to compete another (radar) study, we would help them develop protocol and make recommendations on the equipment they should use…”
Service officials also encouraged the developer to gather additional data that would identify the project’s potential risks for gold and bald eagles, a recommendation officials claim they gave to the developer before.
Mr. Sullivan said he, service staff and the developer met July 29, 2016, to discuss year-long eagle studies the developer planned to have conducted for the project and the developer’s plan to potentially apply for an incidental take permit, which would provide legal coverage under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act if one of their turbines injured or killed a gold or bald eagle. Developer staff members were supposed to notify the service six months after the meeting to share their progress and a final report at the conclusion of their research, but Mr. Sullivan said he was not aware of any follow-up communication from the developer after the meeting.
“I still expect to hear from them,” Mr. Sullivan said, adding that Apex Clean Energy might not have completed its gold and bald eagle surveys.
Mr. Habig said Apex has met with the service since May 2015 for wildlife study recommendations, which he said it has used when executing the surveys.
Mr. Habig also said “DEC requested that we analyze Galloo data using a method developed by (the service). We don’t support this approach, but agreed to comply with the DEC request and have performed the analysis which will be included in the application.”
Service officials also recommended that the developer expand its cumulative impact radius to include several more proposed and established wind energy facilities in the state and Ontario, Canada, have post-construction monitoring for wildlife impacts and routinely check the service’s website to determine what threatened or endangered species reside in the project site.
“(The service officials) did a considerable amount of work and effort that they put into that,” said Clifford P. Schneider, a former DEC biologist who endorsed service officials’ comments in his own letter to the PSC.
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