United States

United States

Substantial threat from wildlife agency -- American Wind Energy Association devotes resources for organised and coherent response to wildlife group concerns

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS) is "out of touch" with the modern wind industry and the federal agency's wind project siting guidelines need to be "reality-checked," says the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). In a 14-page notification to the US Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, AWEA further asserts that the guidelines impose an "undue economic burden on the industry" and should be "amended in the very near term."

The notification concludes with a strongly worded warning: "The Service would be well-served by taking the time required to improve the guidelines," states the association. "Expansion of wind power is the most viable strategy at present for reducing our nation's reliance on polluting energy sources. The service's guidelines pose a substantial and immediate threat to that option." AWEA officials say they realise that the USF&WS guidelines, issued last summer, are both voluntary and in draft form only. But it points out that they are already being used in individual situations to "engender distrust" between developers and the general populace.

Atlantic Renewable Energy's Sam Enfield, expected to be made AWEA president this month, says that there are "legitimate technical issues" that need to be resolved regarding the interaction of wildlife and wind turbines. He adds, however, that he believes much of the concern over these issues generates from groups of people who simply do not want wind turbines in their localities.

"I don't know that the issues have changed," he says. "We have two new contexts -- the east and offshore," he adds, referring to the increasing numbers of wind projects being proposed and built east of the Mississippi River and the proposals for wind power stations off the American coastline.

Hotly disputed

AWEA claims the guidelines were developed without input from the wind industry. It is a statement hotly disputed by wildlife agency officials and advocates. USF&WS has not yet responded officially to AWEA's complaints, but privately many officials say the guidelines were developed after years of discussions between the federal agency, other federal officials and members of the wind industry.

These officials fear the wind industry may be becoming less co-operative where wildlife issues are concerned. A public meeting at which the federal agency will discuss industry objections is planned for March 18 in Washington DC.

AWEA is organising a committee to help wind project developers deal with siting issues and has just hired a full-time employee, Laurie Jodziewicz, who will be handling a wide range of siting-related issues. AWEA's director, Randy Swisher, says: "It's clear that as we see more development across the country, there are not surprisingly more issues relating to siting. They require a more organised coherent response. We need to be devoting more resources to supporting our members in dealing with those kinds of questions."

More aggressive

Meanwhile, wildlife advocates are becoming more aggressive in asserting their concerns over wildlife safety. A proposal for legislation requiring a minimum standard for renewable energy supply proposed by the Maryland speaker of the house includes a mandate for a state-wide siting committee to study wildlife issues. "That's a step in the right direction, but it's just a start," says the conservation chair of the Sierra Club's Maryland chapter. "Absolutely people are now challenging claims like two birds per turbine are killed each year. People are beginning to realise that there are trade-offs now that can't just be swept under the rug."

Meantime, the New Jersey Audubon Society (NJAS) has formally appealed a ruling by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection which gives Community Energy of Wayne, Pennsylvania, permission to erect five wind turbines on a barrier beach island near Atlantic City.

Says Eric Stiles of the NJAS: "We support wind energy and we recognise the harm caused by traditional energy sources. We would like to see this site developed. But we don't feel that the wildlife research was sufficient. For example, the applicant went out and conducted transect surveys for spring migrants in June. In June! The migrants aren't there anymore. Basic biological standards have not been met. The level of what's been done here is not like what's been done on sites out west."

Stiles says he has been meeting regularly with Community Energy representatives and with state officials to discuss the problem. "I can characterise the discussions as being very positive and I am hopeful that this will be resolved soon, to the satisfaction of all parties."

Eric Blank, co-founder of Community Energy Inc, agrees that progress in the disagreement had been made. "Unlike some of the western projects, this one is much smaller and not comparable," he says. "But we agree that the discussions have been fruitful and we look forward to resolving it and building the wind energy industry in New Jersey."

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