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United States

Wildlife worries prompt action

While strongly supporting the development of wind energy in the north-east United States, state Audubon groups in Maine and New York have this summer questioned the adequacy of wildlife studies carried out at two specific sites earmarked for wind farm development. In Maine, the state Audubon chapter has appealed a permit granted to Peter Gish of Evergreen Windpower to site 33 GE Energy 1.5 MW wind turbines on a ski mountain, while in New York, the Audubon is concerned about a 51 MW project of 34 turbines proposed for Ripley in western New York by local company Jasper Energy.

The Audubon Society is a powerful wildlife protection lobby with a long history of successful advocacy throughout the US. Its entry into the discussion of what constitutes adequate site wildlife studies prior to permitting wind farms raises the bar for the wind industry.

Maine Audubon claims the permit granted to Evergreen was granted in violation of state law because the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) failed to require adequate wildlife studies. It says it wants to make what may be Maine's first large scale commercial wind power plant "a model of how to do things right." A hearing is scheduled for September 2.

"Maine Audubon regrets that we're in an appeal process, because from the earliest days of March, Maine Audubon had offered to meet with the applicant to go over these issues," says the society's Elyse Tipton. "And throughout the permitting process we have submitted letters as to why it would be important to do the wildlife studies." Evergreen has previously said that the requested studies are unnecessary at the site.

In New York, the Audubon group says it is supportive of wind farm development in the state, but it is requesting "proper site assessments prior to construction of wind turbines" and a "thorough evaluation of avian mortality at existing and new wind turbine facilities."

In a position paper, it calls for monitoring before and after construction that includes both field and radar research and asks that studies be done for longer than one year. It emphasises that research must be conducted during breeding, migration and wintering periods and that it include an adequate number of sampling days.

The New York group says it will oppose development on sites in the state designated as Important Bird Areas and Bird Conservation Areas. Audubon's Jillian Liner points out that the project proposed for Ripley is in such an area and that it has "plenty of migrating raptors." For this reason, a number of local, state and federal wildlife organisations have opposed it together with Audubon. Jasper Energy, however, is moving forward with the permitting process having completed an environmental impact statement. The project has the support of the New York state power authority.

"It seems obvious that this is not a good location. I thought it was halted. Then to find it back on the radar, I was surprised again, knowing what I know about that site. We oppose the development of that particular site," says Liner. "We want to be supportive, but let's be smart and do comprehensive studies and do monitoring after to continue to improve our knowledge."

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