DES MOINES – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced a habitat conservation plan proposed by MidAmerican Energy as the best solution to help preserve certain bat and eagle species at company wind farms.
As part of the plan, MidAmerican Energy will establish conservation funds for statewide bat and eagle programs that will help bolster their populations.
After public input and extensive evaluation, the Fish and Wildlife Service released its final environmental impact statement that concludes MidAmerican Energy’s habitat conservation plan “best fulfills the agency’s statutory mission and responsibilities while meeting the purpose and need.” There is now a 30-day period for the public to review the plan after which the agency can make a final decision to issue a 30-year “incidental take permit.”
The permit would allow for a limited number of incidental takes for four bat species and 10 turbine-related incidental bald eagle takes per year. Bats covered by the permit include the federally endangered Indiana bat, the federally threatened northern long-eared bat, the non-endangered little brown bat and tri-colored bat. The bald eagle is not an endangered species but is protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The Fish and Wildlife Service found in its final environmental impact statement that this amount of mortality is not likely to result in population-level impacts to bald eagles or bats.
“MidAmerican Energy has worked hard to identify and develop practices that help preserve bats and eagles at the company’s clean energy wind farms,” Josh Mohr, MidAmerican Energy senior director of environmental programs, said. “Through this extensive effort, involving years of comprehensive research and detailed analysis, MidAmerican Energy has established and adopted unparalleled conservation practices at our wind farms. And that won’t change as we continue to grow our wind energy footprint in Iowa.”
Bat and bald eagle protection measuresMidAmerican Energy’s plan, first proposed in April of 2018, helps protect the four bat species by modifying nighttime wind turbine operations during certain months. At four wind farms where researchers found increased signs of nearby bat activity, the company will make additional operational changes, including blade feathering, from mid-July through September. Blade feathering, or turning a blade to reduce its wind exposure, helps keep turbine blades from spinning slowly when light winds don’t blow strongly enough to produce energy.
The company will seasonally adjust the wind speed at which a turbine begins to spin and produce energy. Studies show the adjustment can reduce bat fatalities up to 58%. The changes slightly decrease electric generation output.
The plan also includes measures to reduce bald eagle impacts at MidAmerican Energy wind farms, including educating landowners about removing animal remains that may attract eagles.
Bat and bald eagle conservation funds to be establishedUnder the plan, MidAmerican Energy has committed nearly $10 million to create bat and eagle conservation funds. The funds will support statewide projects to offset impacts to the affected species and help bolster their populations.
“MidAmerican Energy’s investment in a 30-year commitment for a Habitat Conservation Plan that covers the entire state of Iowa for their 22 wind projects to address current and potential conflicts with Bald Eagles demonstrates a commitment not only to a clean energy economy but also to the conservation of an iconic species of bird that is the symbol of our country, and that Audubon and our members treasure,” the conservation advocacy group Audubon Society wrote in public comments it filed with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Plan based on comprehensive study
MidAmerican Energy’s habitat conservation plan follows an unprecedented four-year series of independent studies covering most of its wind fleet. In November 2014, MidAmerican Energy, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, began the studies to determine how wind farms impact bald eagles and the four bat species. The efforts examined where sensitive bat species and bald eagles appear near MidAmerican Energy wind farms and evaluated their impacts.
The company is using study results to enhance conservation practices for current and future wind farms. MidAmerican Energy will provide annual reports to the agency on company conservation efforts and their effectiveness.
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