Bird death claims cloud positive poll -- EHN in Navarra

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Environmentalists are accusing the Navarra government of a cover-up after unearthing information indicating that almost 60 times as many bird deaths as a result of wind turbines in the region than previously admitted. The information, from an allegedly unpublished official report, was not made public by the government, says environment group Gurelur. It is now questioning the results of an opinion poll about wind power commissioned by Energía Hidroeléctrica de Navarra (EHN), Spain's biggest wind developer.

The poll says that 85% of local people classify the area's 550 MW of installed wind capacity as "beneficial" or "very beneficial." Gurelur, however, says it will file a complaint before the EU. Both the survey and Gurelur's accusations coincide with increased activity by EHN, which plans to squeeze at least another 200 MW into Navarra. The allegations are also particularly prickly for the regional government, which owns 38% of EHN.

Gurelur claims the study reveals annual mortality of 8406 animals and birds in one year -- 749 bats, 472 birds of prey and 7185 common bird species -- from 11 wind plant. This is nearly 60 times higher than the 0.1% rate announced by the regional environment department last summer, a figure pulled from the initial findings of a study in Spain to assess the impact on bird life by wind turbines. To access report details, Gurelur claims it had to resort to "irregular methods," following the department's reluctance to hand it over.

"Once we read the report we understood the department's prevarication," says Gurelur. The study is reportedly based on the discovery of 138 animals found dead at 11 wind plant sites during weekly visits between March 2000 and March 2001. The report notes variables and margins of error, such as the rate of disappearance of carcasses. This indicated a mortality of 6561 birds and 671 bats, according to Gurelur, whose revised estimate takes into account new installed capacity from plant extensions since March 2001.

Feel-good factor

EHN fails to directly comment on Gurelur's claims, only saying that findings reported by the environment department last year "are among the most reliable figures in this field to date." The company prefers to focus on the feel-good factor of its opinion poll, carried out by research firm CIES from 1369 interviews in seven districts of Navarra, five of which with wind stations totalling 339 MW. The main advantage of wind power for 93% of participants is that it is clean, while 37% consider it also creates wealth and employment. Of those living near Navarra's oldest wind farm, the El Perdón plant, 86% considered it to be beneficial, against 2% detrimental.

The most negative opinions involve visual impact, though even in this case EHN says that a minimum 80% in the seven different areas considered the environmental advantages of wind power to justify visual impact. Compared with a similar study carried out in 1998, with just 187 turbines turning, EHN says the number of people who perceive negative visual impact has risen slightly. But at the same time the number of people who perceive wind power as beneficial has increased from 81% to 85%. Whether this will be the case in EHN's next survey may depend on how it handles Gurelur's allegations.

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