Opinion: Wind energy threat to eagles relatively low

The following op-ed by John Anderson, AWEA’s Director of Siting Policy, appeared in Saturday’s edition of the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald.

I am writing in response to the column in which the wind industry’s impacts on eagle populations were misrepresented (“Ill wind blows for America’s eagles,” Page A4, June 16.)

The wind industry’s impacts on eagles are minor compared to other human-related causes of mortality. Based on publicly available data, modern wind energy facilities are responsible for less than 1 percent of human-related eagle fatalities, ranking well below lead poisoning (eagles eat prey that has been shot by hunters), poisoning in general, illegal shooting, collisions with power lines (specifically smaller distribution lines that serve fossil fuel production areas), collisions with vehicles and even drownings in livestock watering tanks.

When looking at the larger picture, the threat wind turbines pose to eagles is relatively low, and industry leaders continue to work cooperatively with wildlife agencies and wildlife conservation groups to further reduce unintentional deaths.

Case in point: The wind power industry is working to reduce its impact on eagles in one region in California where old-generation turbines were installed three decades ago.

“Repowering” (replacing these older turbines with fewer and larger machines spaced more widely apart) in this area, which is known for having the most conflicts between wind turbines and birds, is expected to significantly reduce collisions. Initial data indicates that these efforts are having a positive effect.

Regarding the Eagle Permit Rule, established in 2009 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the intent is to provide sensible legal guidelines surrounding unfortunate but incidental impacts on eagles by any industrial activity and is not specific to the wind industry.

Further, the extension of this permit to a 30-year term does not weaken enforcement or protection of these species but rather ensures the permit can be used in a meaningful way. Requirements are in no way weakened; in fact, the 30-year extension carries with it a stronger monitoring and reporting requirement that ultimately will help to prevent more impacts in the long-term.

This extension puts the permit on par with the Endangered Species Act, which authorizes permitted activities for similar durations and holds the permittees to similar requirements.

It’s important to note this protection is made available under carefully controlled conditions. A wind farm developer or owner/operator cannot simply apply for a permit. The organization must evaluate the proposed wind project holistically to assess the risk to eagles, then take steps through avoidance and minimization to reduce the potential for take.

If the threat of eagle mortality continues after those efforts are made, the developer or operator must compensate for fatalities and make sure that a no-net-loss standard–in other words, one in which eagles’ overall numbers are stable or increasing–is being met.

This is a very high standard and puts significant pressure on companies to minimize their impacts to the greatest practical extent.

The death of a protected species such as a bald or golden eagle is a matter of law enforcement. As a result, details and specific numbers on collisions are not always readily shared with the public, because they may be part of an ongoing investigation.

But the information is shared with regulatory agencies.

The wind energy industry also has a long record of proactive, collaborative efforts on wildlife issues and seeking ways to avoid, minimize and mitigate its relatively low environmental impacts.

Through the American Wind Wildlife Institute and other initiatives, our industry and environmental groups have been funding research designed to better understand eagle population size and dynamics, how eagles behave around turbines and how to better avoid and mitigate impacts.

Additionally, the wind energy industry is voluntarily holding itself to a higher standard for eagle protection than any other industry of which we are aware. We welcome the additional guidance on eagles that will be forthcoming from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and that is specific to wind energy.

No development activity is 100 percent safe for wildlife, but the wind energy industry’s impacts are minor. And our industry does more to study, avoid and mitigate for our impacts than does any other industry in the country.

In addition, by providing emissions-free electricity, wind energy helps combat the greatest threat to wildlife: climate change.

Related articles:

American Wind Wildlife Institute releases white paper on eagles and wind power, May 25, 2012
Already following federal bird guidelines, wind co. says, March 29, 2012
Fact check: Bryce missteps on wind and birds, March 8, 2012
Colorado collaboration: Wind companies, conservation groups agree on wildlife best practices
, February 6, 2012
The Fish & Wildlife Eagle Permit Rule: Our perspective
, January 10, 2012
Wind power’s impact on birds: modest
, December 15, 2011
Birds and wind: Bad news leads, good news in weeds
, August 29, 2011
Fact check: Fox News off base on bird collisions
, August 19, 2011
News story draws questionable conclusions from eagle collisions with old turbines
, June 6, 2011
WINDPOWER report: Whooping cranes may avoid wind farms, more research ahead
, May 25, 2011
Wind developer launches intensive avian monitoring program
, May 23, 2011
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, AWEA, wind developers sign agreement to promote endangered species conservation
, April 20, 2011

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