A NextEra Energy Inc. subsidiary pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and was sentenced to pay millions in penalties over eagles killed by its wind energy operations, the U.S. Justice Department announced April 5.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary supports environmentally responsible wind and other renewable energy development as an important measure to combat climate change. However, environmentally responsible wind energy development starts with siting turbines where impacts to wildlife and people can be minimized.
“Hawk Mountain is committed to broadening the discussion and finding win-win solutions that mutually benefit clean energy while protecting birds. We recommend establishing balanced state and national advisory councils that establish best practices and industry standards as siting decisions are made at the local level that disproportionally affect migratory wildlife and impact usable air space for local and regional airports,” says Hawk Mountain President Sean Grace.
This recent report on fines paid for eagle kills at turbines clearly emphasizes how improper siting of turbines can result in significant mortality in eagles and other birds. Proper siting guidance could proactively avoid such situations which are bad for eagles and for wind developers. Best management practices that minimize wind tower operation during migrations are another important means to reduce mortality and should also be developed and incorporated in any statewide guidance.
As a global leader in bird conservation, Hawk Mountain strongly opposes siting wind turbines on top of ridges in the Ridge and Valley area of Pennsylvania, as the area has high biodiversity value and is used heavily during migration by raptors, bats and other Pennsylvania species of conservation priority.
Pennsylvania is disproportionately important for golden eagle conservation. The small eastern population has been shown to winter and migrate through the state in higher numbers than any other region. Because of the importance of Pennsylvania ridges to golden eagles, they were designated a Species of Greatest Conservation Need by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 2015. Other raptors listed as Species of Conservation Need, such as the America kestrel, also use these ridges as a highway for migration in fall and spring and would be impacted negatively by increased wind development.
“We urge the state to use this opportunity to develop clear guidelines for turbine siting that evaluate landscapes, wind resources, and environmental impacts that minimize wildlife and human risks. Such guidelines are sorely needed and would support the many municipal leaders making decisions for their municipalities. There needs to be a more well-thought-out plan on how air space is regulated,” Grace said.
Different turbine designs, such as vertical axis turbines, may have much less impact on wildlife and research and development should be encouraged as safer alternatives for wildlife.
“That’s a solution-oriented approach that benefits wildlife and developers,” Grace said.
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