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VITAL BIRDS CONSULTATION STARTED

The first summit dedicated to the impact of wind plant on birds was held in July in Colorado. The summit identified six areas of further study: defining the problem on why birds enter wind farms; what impact, if any, there is on avian populations; possible mitigation measures; and preparations of protocols for future avian research. The conference decided to form an avian sub-committee under the National Wind Co-ordinating Committee -- an advisory group of utilities, environmentalists, wind representatives and consumers that is still drawing up its charter.

Just over 50 of people from North America and Europe attended the first conference devoted specifically to the issue of bird kills and wind power in America. Held in late July in Colorado, the birds summit identified six areas of further study. The Avian Windpower Conference was sponsored by the National Energy Renewable Laboratory (NREL), National Audubon Society, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Industry representatives, bird consultants and independent bird experts spent two-days in discussion and listening to presentations.

Research is needed on defining the problem, on why birds enter wind farms, what impact, if any, there is on avian populations, possible mitigation measures and protocols needed for future avian research, said Bob Thresher of NREL, assessing the summit. The conference decided to form an avian sub-committee at the National Wind Co-ordinating Committee -- an advisory group of utilities, environmentalists, wind representatives and consumers that is still drawing up its charter.

NREL will also probably issue a competitive solicitation this fall or winter to cover some aspects of research, said Thresher. Money will come from the 1995 wind budget. The preliminary figure being discussed is $2 million, although nothing has yet been finalised. He said, too, that EPRI and larger industry members will probably fund avian studies. Kenetech has already put substantial funding into bird studies.

"It was a lot of getting to know each other," said Thresher of the meeting. "I think it was extremely productive. We got the industry folks, the environmentalists, and researchers in avian issues to sit down and talk -- and we found out we had some common ground." All those present were invited to the conference. Most paid their own way, although NREL financed the attendance of six or seven technical specialists, he said. "It was a good first meeting of people in the community who have input into the process," agreed Ed DeMeo, manager of EPRI's Solar Power Programme. "It's clear the issues are not real well understood. The data are spotty or don't correspond to a representative situation."

Michael Brower, research director at UCS, also said the meeting was a vital first step. But he stressed, "It has to be followed up by continued consultation." Sheila Byrne of Pacific Gas & Electric, also representing the Edison Electric Institute, commented that perhaps the content was not as specific as the organisers had hoped. The attendance of European authorities -- such as Johanna Winkelman representing the Danish Society for the Protection of Birds, and Ramon Marti of the Spanish Ornithological Society -- was most valuable in the meeting, she said.

Marti gave an impromptu presentation. He cited informal preliminary data that griffon vultures and other birds are being killed at wind farms in Tarifa, southern Spain, explaining the area is a "pinch point" where migratory birds cross the narrow Straits of Gibraltar to and from Africa . A potential problem did seem to be identified, but the necessary data has not yet been gathered to verify it, said Thresher.

Summing up the event, Thresher said it was agreed that further research is needed in the following areas:

¥ how avian issues should be defined -- by the number of birds in the area, deaths in a wind farm, flights through it, or by some other criterion

¥ why birds enter wind farms -- data are only preliminary and from one area (Altamont Pass) and the problem does not appear to exist elsewhere in wind development areas of California;

¥ what are the effects, if any, on avian population, regionally, nationally or cumulatively for all birds or for one species

¥ what can be done to mitigate the problem observed so far in the Altamont Pass

¥ what protocols to establish for research so that studies can be compared without stifling creativity.

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