According to the study, carried out by the Spanish Ornithological Society/BirdLife International (SEO/BirdLife), expanding Tarifa's current 60 MW output is feasible, but improvements in planning must first be adopted if the bird mortality rate so far recorded is to be reduced in future installations.
Financed by the regional Andalusian Environmental Agency (AMA), the study of a limited number of the 268 wind turbines at Tarifa shows that between December of 1993 and December of 1994, 106 birds were killed after colliding with turbines or the power lines connecting them to the grid. The death toll, believed by SEO/BirdLife to be one of the highest in the world for that number of wind turbines, mainly involved griffon vultures and kestrels, two raptor species found in large numbers in the area. Other birds included eagle owls, lesser kestrels, and short-toed eagles.
"The mortality rate registered is very important from both a quantitative and qualitative point of view because 83% of the dead birds were protected raptors," says SEO spokesman Fernando Barrio. "Also, compared to other studies, including a European one which showed 303 birds had died in 108 European wind farms over several years, and a US study showing 182 bird deaths over a two-year period at Altamont Pass with its 7,000-odd turbines, the Tarifa percentage is very high," he adds. "On top of that only a specific number of wind turbines, 34%, were monitored on a regular basis due to the limited funds available and only the medium-size and large birds were studied. The real figure could, in fact, be much higher."
SEO/BirdLife calculates that the percentage per turbine of bird kills was rated at 0.34 birds per turbine or one bird per three turbines per year, although the organisation is ready to admit that a large percentage of bird deaths occurred at a specific number of turbines. These are located in the 190 turbine PESUR wind farm, made up of Spanish-made MADE machines and AWP turbines which were built by the Spanish firm Abengoa and Kenetech (formally US Windpower) of the United States under a now defunct joint venture. A much smaller percentage died at the 66 turbine E3 farm which boasts Spanish-made Ecotècnia and Made machines. The other, smaller wind farms, were not taken into consideration for this study.
The report laments the loss of several vulture roosts situated uncomfortably close to a recently completed 30 MW Kenetech-built wind farm which was approved long before the bird controversy erupted in early 1993. The 30 MW doubles the output at Tarifa, otherwise supplied by 269 machines.
And despite industry claims that the sealing of a rubbish tip (financed by Kenetech) dramatically reduced the number of carrion eaters drawn to the wind farms, SEO/BirdLife argues that there is no difference in the numbers of vultures overflying the wind facility. "The number of resident and migratory vultures in the area is enormous," says Barrio.
Migration unaffectedMost importantly, though, the study revealed that migratory birds (some 250 million birds, including 60% of the entire Western European migratory raptor population, pass through the Tarifa area on their way to and from Africa every year) were not affected by the standing turbines. Although the migrators pass close by, the current wind plants are not situated directly in their path and are bypassed as the birds travel to and from the African continent.
The report does warn, however, that projected new wind farms, which could eventually harbour as many as 700 turbines in the not too distant future, could indeed hinder migratory patterns if care was not taken when siting them. Among the suggestions forwarded by SEO/BirdLife to improve environmental conditions for existing and wind plants is a proposal for the cut in wind speeds of wind turbines which pose the greatest danger to be hiked to 9 m/s. This would mean that the blades would only rotate when winds were strong enough to give the birds the lift they require to steer clear of the turbines.
Other measures included removing troublesome turbines completely, removing dead cattle from the vicinity of the wind turbines to eliminate the threat to vultures when they come into feed and experimenting with colourfully painted blades.
Second study awaited
The report, accepted and ratified by the AMA, has been welcomed by the wind industry in Spain as an important step towards wooing back crucial European Union (EU) subsidies since it was protests by conservationists, including SEO/BirdLife, which sparked off a de facto moratorium on further EU grants for wind energy development at Tarifa.
But before the EU decides to study new applications for grant aid, a second report on Tarifa must be made available by the pertinent authorities -- the long-promised Plan Especial de Ordenaci—n de las Instalaciones E—licas de Tarifa, or Special Study for the Management of Wind Power Installations. This study will provide an overall view of the area regarding wind power installation, especially concerning global environmental issues, the needs of the local population and a wealth of other factors to ensure sustainable development of the area. Tarifa is praised for its beauty and any development there, such as proposed by the tourist industry, has been fought against in the past.
Wind develpers are particularly interested in the management plan because, unlike the bird report, it indicates exactly where turbines can be erected without doing harming. The SEO/BirdLife study will be incorporated into this overall plan, completion of which is another of the conditions that regional and European environmental authorities have attached to further development of Tarifa (Windpower Monthly, July 1995). But problems over financing the study, being carried out by the Inerco consultancy firm, have prevented it from completion. It is now way past its deadline.
According to the AMA, the money should have been provided by the Town Hall of Tarifa on whose land the wind farms stand, but the recently inaugurated mayor says his debt ridden municipality cannot possibly pay for the study and has demanded that the regional environmental authorities or potential wind developers foot the bill. Jose Fuentes Pacheco, who was voted in on an independent ticket in May elections, says the issue might have been resolved by his government if earnings from wind power were sufficient to pay the town's lighting bill. "As it stands the balance is notoriously in favour of the electricity company," he says.
In view of the stalemate, the AMA has issued the Town Hall with an ultimatum, warning Fuentes Pacheco that unless the study is completed, it will take matters into its own hands and license new developments directly. The implication is that the Town Hall would lose its prerogatives governing municipal land to the powerful regional authorities, and, possibly, the right to obtain substantial economic benefit from future installations.
Analysts believe, however, that unless an amicable solution is found, the squabble could escalate into renewed protests not over the birds but over the right to exploit the land on which the wind turbines are sited. Safe in the knowledge his electorate will support him, Fuentes Pacheco is likely to put up a fight and use every legal mechanism possible to ensure the carpet is not pulled from under him. "As the situation now stands," he says, "Tarifa is gaining next to nothing. It's like having a river run through your land without being able to drink from it. We plan to set that right."