The U.S. government wants changes in the design of a proposed wind farm in Maryland to avoid injuries to bald eagles – with controversial warnings saying that otherwise up to 20 of these birds would die a year.
The wind power developer, Pioneer Green Energy, will construct 30 instead of the proposed 50 wind turbines on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to see the impact of the technology on eagles. That also lowers the wind farm output from 210 megawatts to 150 megawatts.
The developer is trying to cooperate with those having concerns. “We’ve taken a huge hit on our economics to stay out of those windier areas, but it helps not only the bald eagles but other species of concern,” Adam Cohen, vice president and founder of Pioneer Green Energy, told The Daily Times of Salisbury, MD.
The government regulator on the project is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which has the authority to restrict wind power facilities to avoid deaths of birds and bats.
In the case of the latest case in Maryland, the federal agency used studies on golden eagle casualties because the agency admits there are not many instances of collisions of bald eagles and wind turbines, according to The Associated Press.
“Only nine bald eagle collisions with turbine blades have been recorded nationally,” The AP added.
“We don’t know if that means bald eagles can avoid turbines better than golden eagles can,” Sarah Nystrom, the Northeast region’s bald and golden eagle coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was quoted by The AP. “We are learning as we go, and this project is no different.”
But the practice concerns John Anderson, director of Siting Policy for the American Wind Energy Association. He wants the federal agency to use different standards for bald and golden eagles.
“It is our understanding that the FWS is currently conducting an independent peer-review of the model, and our expectation is the results, which will be publicly available, will note the flaws in it,” Anderson said.
There are similar issues elsewhere in the United States. In 2009, a federal judge temporarily stopped a West Virginia wind power facility to protect Indiana bats. Now it operates at less than full capacity. In Southeast Minnesota, a wind-power project is being reviewed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to protect birds and bats. Some 50 turbines are proposed for Belle Creek and Zumbrota townships.
Opponents argue the turbine blades there could kill up to 20 eagles a year, according to a report carried by TMCnet.
Other environmentalists suggest the technology in use for wind power is always very dangerous for birds and bats. “Since the early 1980s, the industry has known that there was no way to ever make their propeller style wind turbine design safe for raptors,” environmentalist Jim Wiegand claimed in East County Magazine.
“The industry has also known for decades that they were sitting on a public relations nightmare. Images of eagles and hawks cut in half or wandering around wind farms for days with limbs missing would not set well with people. But it does happen and it happens often,” he wrote in the article. He also claims that the wind industry “has been hiding at least 90 percent of their slaughter for decades.”
As an option, he says, there is a wind turbine that is safe to birds – the FloDesign Wind turbine. It is encased, and does not have open blade tips.
Overall, the outlook is better for bald eagles. In 2007, bald eagles were taken off the Endangered Species list. The number of breeding pairs in the continental United States is now about 10,000.
Edited by Braden Becker