ORWIGSBURG – A director from Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, which is known for its research on raptor migration, sent a letter to Hegins Township while the township is considering a zoning variance for a wind turbine developer.
“We support alternative energy production, but suggest industrial wind development should avoid areas of raptor concentration, particularly migration pathways,” said Laurie Goodrich, Ph.D., director of conservation science at the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning for Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.
Goodrich’s letter addresses concerns about height, setback distances, lighting and the impact on wildlife in general terms for wind turbines, not just specific to the Hegins Township proposed project.
The continuance hearing before the township zoning hearing board for the energy developer, Clean Air Generation LLC, is at 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 16, at the Hegins Area Ambulance Building, Gap Street, Valley View.
The Waverly company, CAG, is seeking a variance for permitted uses in the township’s S-3 Special Purpose Mining District, where it wants to install up to 40 wind turbines in Hegins Township.
CAG would like to construct the wind farm on the Bear Mountain ridge tops in Hegins Township, and also as many as 35 to 40 more wind turbines in parts of Porter, Frailey and Tremont townships. Hegins Township has its own zoning hearing board, while the other townships address zoning through Schuylkill County. CAG entered a land lease and wind easement agreement with Rausch Creek Land LP, of Valley View, for approximately 12,672 acres. Nicholas Cohen, CAG principal, testified before the zoning hearing board on Nov. 21 that the wind turbines proposed would be less than 500 feet tall, or between 485 to 500 feet, with a base size of 100 by 100 feet.
No decision on the variance was made by the Hegins Township zoning hearing board and the hearing was continued to Monday.
Cohen, in a phone interview Friday evening, said he couldn’t address Goodrich’s letter specifically because he did not see it.
“We care about the environment and wildlife,” Cohen said. “Wildlife is the most regulated aspect of project development. It requires expensive study of wildlife, including plants, animals and insects, especially threatened or endangered species,” he said.
Before the company can get permitted for the project, it has to complete those studies. From the design, to construction, to operational phase of the project, the impact on wildlife must be taken into account, according to Cohen.
Goodrich’s letter, dated Sept. 24, was also sent to Schuylkill County for the county’s consideration.
Goodrich attached a map showing where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Bird Conservancy recommend large scale wind turbine placement should be avoided due to the importance to migratory birds.
On Friday, Goodrich showed the map, as well as a topography map of the state, from her office at 410 Summer Valley Road in Orwigsburg.
In referencing the map, she said, “The Appalachians are considered an area of high importance for golden eagle migration and as such are less suitable for large scale wind development due to likely interaction with golden eagles and other raptors on migration and during winter. Smaller turbines for residential use may be more in line with usage considerations within this landscape.”
Under the sanctuary’s principles for raptor conservation, it addresses the matter in a piece titled, “Wind power and raptors: their interactions and ways to reduce them.”
“During their migrations, raptors often concentrate in large numbers along regionally and globally significant migration flyways. Many flyways are in wind-prone areas where migrants fly at low altitudes while slope soaring on updrafts. Wind turbines already occur at sites along man of these flyways and their construction has been proposed at other sites.
“Hawk Mountain Sanctuary recognizes the environmental benefits of wind power for addressing problems associated with climate change and environmental pollution. HMS also recognizes its mission of protecting raptors, and that wind turbines sometimes negatively impact raptors, and that our understanding of these interactions is limited,” HMS states.
Goodrich’s comments, in part, included revision recommendations. She said the township should consider requiring a pre-construction inventory of wildlife.
Goodrich recommends a two-mile buffer, or 10,560 feet, from known Important Bird Areas that were set aside for raptors and migration (Kittatinny Ridge or Blue Mountain). “Our research demonstrates that raptors are known to roost and feed most frequently within two to four miles of a known migratory flyway. To ensure less mortality and bird strikes this distance is advised.”
Goodrich recommends a maximum height in this region of the continent should be 150 feet maximum due to the high volume of raptor and songbird migration that occurs throughout the Central Appalachian Mountains, particularly the golden eagle which also winters in the region, she said.
“Taller turbines will increase mortality to birds and bats with the larger sweep area above ground level. If turbines are smaller there is lower chance of impact, although some impact will occur. If turbines are placed on mountain or ridge tops, the turbines should be shut off during highest density movements of birds, during mid-September through early November and in March and April.”
Goodrich recommended that only blinking lights as authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration be allowed and no steady-burning lights. They are approved by FAA for lighting of any tower, which is a change that occurred in the last five years, she said. “Any lighting of accessory structures should be downward facing with covering on top to avoid scattering light to the skies. Lights attract birds, increases fatality at the structures and increases visibility and obtrusion to surrounding human communities,” she said.
Several conservation organizations have policy statements regarding wind power, including the American Bird Conservancy at abcbirds.org.
“We recommend that individuals and organizations concerned about wind power-bird interactions consult this policy statement and that the wind-power industry and relevant governmental and intergovernmental agencies adopt the recommendations indicated in this policy statement,” HMS states in its principles article.
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