Archive for the ‘Wind Farms’ Category

Wind Farm Update

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

An interesting twist on the wind farm story from the Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN

Your comments needed…

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

See earlier posts:

Vast wind energy proposal could kill endangered birds

Wind Farms and Whooping Cranes

 

Opportunity to provide your comments to:

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, Fish and Wildlife Service concerning effects of wind turbines on Whooping Cranes.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Habitat Conservation Plan for Commercial Wind Energy Developments Within Nine States

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent; announcement of public scoping meetings; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, as lead agency advise the public that we intend to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on a proposed application, including a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The potential ITP would include federally listed and candidate species within portions of nine states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas).

The activities covered by a potential ITP would include regional-level construction, operation, and maintenance associated with multiple commercial wind energy facilities. The planning partners are currently considering, for inclusion in the HCP, certain species listed as federally threatened or endangered, or having the potential to become listed during the life of the HCP, and having some likelihood of being taken by the applicant’s activities within the proposed permit area. The intended effect of this notice is to gather information from the public to develop and analyze the effects of the potential issuance of an ITP that would facilitate wind energy development within the planning area, while minimizing incidental take and mitigating the effects of any incidental take to the maximum extent practicable.

We provide this notice to (1) Describe the proposed action; (2) advise other Federal and state agencies, potentially affected tribal interests, and the public of our intent to prepare an EIS; (3) announce the initiation of a 90-day public scoping period; and (4) obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues and possible alternatives to be included in the EIS.

Click on the following for the total Federal Register Announcement

Wind Farms and Whooping Cranes

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

The development of wind farms is occurring at a rapid pace in the Central Flyway with many of the best wind sites located in the whooping crane migration corridor. Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) advised the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) that multiple wind farms have already been built with more planned. Stehn stated, “It is important to analyze the potential impact of literally tens of thousands of wind turbines that may be placed in the whooping crane migration corridor in the coming years.      

Current estimates are that 2,705 turbines are operational at 40 wind farms in the U. S. whooping crane migration corridor.  The average wind development project consists of 57 turbines (data generated by the Great Plains Wind Energy Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) in March, 2011).      

The majority of wind farms do not require federal permits and thus there is no nexus for the companies to consult with USFWS under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the projects must avoid “take” of endangered species under Section 9 of the ESA. USFWS’ Stehn advised that: “For the totality of wind energy development, there is a very definite issue of “take”.  Wind farms have the potential to directly kill whooping cranes from the turbines themselves or associated power line development, or could result in “take” of hundreds of square miles of migration stopover habitat if whooping cranes tend to avoid wind farms.”  The National Academy of Science Report in 2004 on Platte River endangered species confirmed unequivocally the threat to whooping cranes if migration habitat is lost.      

Early on in discussions with wind companies, USFWS talked of two possible scenarios for offsetting anticipated impacts of wind farms.  These were to set aside whooping crane migration stopover habitat in perpetuity to counter potential loss of habitat from wind farm construction, as well as to mark new power lines, as well as some existing power lines to offset the threat of whooping cranes colliding with a wind turbine or power lines built to support wind development.      

According to Stehn: “At the urging of USFWS at meetings held in Denver and Houston as well as regular conference calls, 19 of the largest wind development companies joined together to work on endangered species issues throughout the whooping crane migration corridor in the U.S.  With the support of the State of Oklahoma, the industry group received a grant of $1,080,990 to develop a landscape level, multi-species HCP that would include the lesser prairie chicken.  The grant was awarded through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund under the HCP Planning Assistance Program. The HCP will be designed to avoid and minimize impacts to endangered and threatened species associated with wind energy development.”        

This multi-species HCP will be the first of its kind to involve alternative fuel sources while protecting endangered species.  In a meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma in November, 2010, four species were added to the HCP (Sprague’s pipit, mountain plover, piping plover and interior least tern), joining the whooping crane and lesser prairie chicken.  An additional meeting was held in March, 2011 in Albuquerque.  It does appear that this industry group will agree to have the wintering grounds of the whooping cranes as off- limits to wind energy development.  However, projects in the migration corridor are currently being built and are not waiting for this HCP to be completed.      

In 2010, monitoring for cranes was done at the Titan I wind facility in South Dakota.  In the spring, a group of 5 whooping cranes spent 3 days approximately 2 miles from the project.  The closest they were ever on the ground from a turbine was 1.2 miles.  When they resumed migration, the nearest turbine was shut down in a very rapid response as the monitor called in that the cranes were flying.  The cranes passed by that turbine at a distance of about one-half mile.  In the fall, two groups of whooping cranes (2+1 and 2) flew within 0.5 and 0.3 miles from an operating turbine but did not seem to alter their flight behavior.       

Research on sandhill cranes in west Texas done by Laura Navarrete of Texas Tech University documented two observed instances of cranes being killed by wind turbine blades.  Although sandhill cranes definitely avoided wind farms, she also observed accommodation with cranes foraging right at the base of turbines.  Research done by U.S. Geological Survey at Horicon NWR in Wisconsin also showed some avoidance by sandhill cranes from wind farms.

WCCA article based on communications with Tom Stehn, USFWS

Vast wind energy proposal could kill endangered birds

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters)| Thu Jul 14, 2011 6:13pm EDT

The Obama administration is evaluating a plan to allow a 200-mile corridor for wind energy development from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico that would allow for killing endangered whooping cranes.

The government’s environmental review will consider a permit sought by 19 energy developers that would permit turbines and transmission lines on non-federal lands in nine states from Montana to the Texas coast, overlapping with the migratory route of the cranes.

The permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would allow the projects to “take” an unspecified number of endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act, “take” is defined as killing or injuring an endangered species

The government can issue permits to kill or injure listed species with no penalties or risks of lawsuits to developers who agree to craft conservation plans. According to federal officials, the large scale of the review will help streamline the permitting process by lumping many projects into a single study.

The Obama Administration has been working to speed development of renewable energy projects by improving coordination among various state and federal agencies. Environmentalists, however, say the “fast track” process results in inadequate environmental reviews.

The Administration’s latest wind energy proposal raises concerns among wildlife advocates because the developments would overlap with habitat imperiled birds such as whooping cranes rely on, including the Central Flyway, a migratory path that cuts through North America’s midsection between the Arctic and the Tropics.

The leading cause of death for the nation’s last historic population of whooping cranes, which stand at 5 feet and have a wingspan of more than 7 feet, is overhead utility lines, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Conservationists say the Central Flyway’s population of 280 cranes — which make a refueling stop along Platte River in Nebraska along with tens of thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese — would suffer with the loss of just a single adult breeding bird.

‘RAREST OF BIRDS’

“I can hardly imagine what the government is thinking. Whooping cranes are the rarest of all the cranes, the rarest of American birds,” said Paul Johnsgard, author of several books on the cranes and professor emeritus of ornithology at the University of Nebraska.

Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said wind energy is crucial to the nation’s future economic and environmental security, which is why the agency is paving the way for a renewable energy project with an undetermined number of wind turbines generating an unidentified amount of electricity along the 200-mile-wide corridor.

“We will do our part to facilitate development of wind energy resources, while ensuring that they are sited and designed in ways that minimize and avoid negative impacts to fish and wildlife,” he said in a statement.

Whooping cranes, North America’s tallest bird, once numbered in the tens of thousands before hunting and habitat loss caused their populations to plummet to 16 in the 1930s.

The cranes, which annually migrate thousands of miles from wintering grounds in coastal Texas to breeding and nesting areas in Alberta, Canada, were at the forefront of an emerging wildlife conservation movement in the 1960s that gave rise to a series of landmark laws aimed at preventing extinctions of rare and declining animals.
Whooping cranes were among the first creatures added to an early version of the Endangered Species Act in 1967.

Few other populations of whooping cranes exist in the United States, with an introduced flock in central Florida that does not migrate and a fledging group in Wisconsin that biologists have trained to fly to the winter refuge of Florida by following ultralight aircraft.

Attempts to establish crane populations elsewhere, including Idaho and Colorado, have failed.

Government scientists have not yet determined how many whooping cranes, other threatened and endangered birds and imperiled bats would be killed or otherwise harmed because of the wind project, said Amelia Orton-Palmer, conservation planner with the service.

“It’s so early in the process we won’t begin to speculate on what that might be,” she said.