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United States

Severe warning from wildlife agency -- Bald eagles under threat

Concern is mounting at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that the wind industry may not willing to co-operate on the siting of wind turbines where they will have least impact on animal and bird habitat. In May the USFWS issued voluntary interim guidelines designed to help wind plant developers site projects to lessen the number of bird and bat kills. But experience with a specific wind project in Pennsylvania does not bode well for such voluntary co-operation, fear USFWS officials.

Early last month, USFWS warned the companies developing FPL Energy's 30 MW Meyersdale project, Atlantic Renewable Energy and Zilkha Renewable Energy, that the required avian research undertaken at the site may have been incomplete. At risk are the endangered Indiana bat and the threatened bald eagle, says USFWS. Construction of the ridgeline project, in Somerset County, south-western Pennsylvania, started last month. The 20 turbine project is due for completion this year.

The environmental impact study performed for the Meyersdale site, states David Densmore, USFWS supervisor for Pennsylvania and West Virginia, may "significantly under represent the numbers of osprey, bald eagles, golden eagles, broad-winged hawks, and American kestrels in Meyersdale."

Twenty per cent RISK

He has further told the project developers: "Based on the avian risk assessment, it appears that mortality rates for migrating raptors may approach 20 per cent. This project also poses a risk to songbirds and bats, although the degree of risk is not known. Considering the lack of site-specific data for wind energy sites in the east with these particular landscape features, we believe that a rigorous pre-construction analysis of the potential effects of the project on avian and bat species is warranted."

Despite the severe warning from the USFWS, Atlantic Renewable Energy. Company head, Theo de Wolff, says construction will continue at Meyersdale. The company's Sam Enfield adds, however, that he intends to respond to the USFWS concerns, expressed in an 11 page document. He declines to say when that will be or what he will say. Project owner FPL will also respond "in the appropriate way," says the company's Steven Stengel.

Densmore says that, as of September 18, there has been no response from the wind industry. He expresses concern at the lack of information from the developers of the Meyersdale project, which contrasts with his experience with another wind project being developed in his region. "I don't know if that information is being collected, or in fact being collected and not reported. Certainly for the benefit of pre-project planning if they feel that discussions with us would be helpful, we would certainly encourage them to do that."

Atlantic Renewable and Zilkha completed their sale of the Meyersdale project to FPL in July. Like the Mountaineer Wind Farm in the neighbouring state of West Virginia, where bat kills are concerning USFWS, Meyersdale will use NEG Micon 1.5 MW turbines. Atlantic Renewable also developed the Mountaineer project prior to its purchase by FPL.

Resiting request

USFWS requests resiting of the Meyersdale project, or mitigation measures such as turning off the turbines during bald eagle migration, and asks for a meeting to discuss the issues. It warns that killing of endangered species -- legally described as a "take" -- is a criminal offence and it is the responsibility of developers to obtain "an incidental take permit or avoid take of any federally listed species."

Despite the tension over Meyersdale, USFWS is still hoping for a constructive dialogue on the formation of guidelines to help developers site wind turbines to lessen the numbers of bird and bat kills. The service issued a set of voluntary interim guidelines in May and USFWS's Al Manville hopes to hear from industry members. A meeting at which the guidelines will be discussed will be held in November in Washington DC.

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