In an Australian first, a wind farm under construction in Tasmania has installed technology to help protect wedge-tailed eagles from flying into the path of turbines.
The IdentiFlight technology developed in the US uses a series of cameras mounted on towers to detect any eagles in flight that may be heading towards the turbines.
The cameras then have the ability to link in to the turbines at the Cattle Hill Wind Farm and slow them down, or turn them off completely, if the eagle continues its journey.
“It’s a $3 million investment to try and prevent eagle deaths and it’s the same system used to protect bald eagles in America,” said Leigh Walters, the operations manager at the wind farm.
“There’s 16 towers in total and we will have 48 wind turbines, so each tower controls a cluster of turbines and each tower has low resolution and high resolution cameras.
“We have specifically set the cameras up for the wedge-tailed eagle and the white-bellied sea eagle using software similar to facial recognition.”
“If an eagle is sighted, the technology will feather the turbines to create turbulence and hopefully the eagle will then veer away from the disturbance.
“But if the eagle continues its flight path, the technology then has the ability to turn off the turbines and track the bird until it is safe to restart the turbines.
“The cameras will operate around the clock and anything we can do here to protect the birds will certainly be worth the cost of installation.”
The technology will go through a trial period by the company constructing the wind farm, Goldwind, which also operates wind farms in Victoria and New South Wales.
Before construction began at the Cattle Hill Wind Farm, eagle nests in the area were identified.
The layout was then set for the erection of turbines at least a kilometre from the nests.
Birdwatchers keep an eagle eye
Ornithologist Dr Eric Woehler from Birdlife Tasmania has welcomed the new protection technology for the eagles after expressing concern at the number of new wind farms planned.
“Any measures employed by wind farm operators to minimise the loss of eagles has to be welcomed and we congratulate the company,” Dr Woehler said.
“Wedge-tailed eagles in particular are endangered species and we know the large birds are more likely to be struck by turbines.
“The tips of the turbines are travelling at over 200 kilometres an hour and the birds don’t recognise the threat. There’s no way the birds can fly through the rotating blades.
“At the moment in Tasmania, up to 10 wind farms are on the books in some shape or form, and a strategic approach is needed rather than the current ad-hoc approach.”
Estimates of wedge-tailed eagles killed by wind turbines across the country vary, and Birdlife Tasmania said it is hard to get very accurate numbers.
Wildlife biologist Nick Mooney has called for independent monitoring and studies into eagle deaths caused by windfarms and said there are around 350 wedge-tailed breeding pairs left in Tasmania.
“I hope the new technology does the job, but I remain sceptical whether the turbines can be shut down in time if the eagle is flying straight towards them,” he said.
“I also believe this technology needs to be installed on more than one wind farm to have a true picture of whether the system works.”
The Cattle Hill Wind Farm is due for completion by the end of the year, and Goldwind said it will share the results of the InterFlight trial to gauge the success of the tower installation.
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