Impact on Birds and Pennsylvania
Golden Eagles are more apt to be killed by wind turbines than other raptors because of their hunting methods, experts say. In California, wind farms in the Altamont Pass area east of Oakland kill an estimated 70 Goldens each year, said Katzner, citing a recent bird mortality study.
Nationwide, it's estimated that thousands of birds, including eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, gulls, waterfowl and songbirds are killed by wind turbines.
Testing at wind energy sites throughout the state shows approximately 25 bats and four birds killed every year at each of the state's 420 active turbines ...That puts the estimated kills through June 2010 at some 10,500 bats and 1,680 birds.
Golden eagles and other species are in danger if a proposed Shaffer Mountain wind project by Gamesa Energy USA is constructed, bird supporters said.
"If they put wind turbines up, golden eagles are pretty dumb and can't avoid them," Dick, an opponent of the project, said. "It's the wrong ridge to put them up."
A federal agency and Audubon Pennsylvania are among about 40 conservation groups from around the world critical of a wind turbine project that's been approved for Turkey Hill along the Susquehanna River.
All the concerns except one revolve around perceived threats 120-foot-long blades on twin turbines would pose to bald eagles, other birds of prey, waterfowl, including tundra swans, and shorebirds that use or migrate through the area.
The federal government has concluded that building two wind turbines with 120-foot-long propellers atop Turkey Point does not threaten eagles, other raptors or bats.
But some birding groups that missed the opportunity to weigh in on the project when public comment was invited believe the environmental impact assessment is flawed.
Lane Johnson said the great blue herons that perch on and near his property in Bell Acres are like an annoying little brother that you wish would go away, but you also feel obligated to protect. ...he spoke during a public hearing Monday night against the proposed erection of a 60-foot wind turbine that would go up about a half-mile away from the herons' nesting spot -- or rookery -- because it might endanger the birds.
Each spring for the past three years, people in my neighborhood buzz about the return of flocks of great blue heron. ...Part of the reason the birds return to Bell Acres is Big Sewickley Creek, a small stream where the heron can fish undisturbed. But how much longer they remain undisturbed is anybody's guess.
At the July 20 meeting of Bell Acres' Planning Commission, a proposal was introduced to turn a field about a half-mile from the heron nests into an "alternative energy center."
Turbines already are taking a heavy toll in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Game Commission released a report last spring showing the death rate is highest for bats, which additionally face being wiped out by a mysterious phenomenon called "white-nose syndrome."
The evidence has mounted since studies in 2004 showed 1,500 to 4,000 bats annually were killed by the 44 turbines on West Virginia's Backbone Mountain.
An effort to protect both wildlife and wind farm profits will benefit from an agreement by 20 wind energy companies to "avoid, minimize and mitigate" the impact of wind turbines on wild birds and mammals, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission said.
Unlike Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Canada, Pennsylvania has no regulations for wind farm projects, relying instead on voluntary guidelines without enforcement provisions.
Dr. Tom Cade, a professor who preserved the peregrine and is rescuing the California condor, said people making ordinary efforts can help extraordinary birds right here in Pennsylvania.
"One problem you folks are facing are these wind turbines proposed to be built on the migration routes," Cade said on the telephone from his home in Idaho. "I don't think there's any doubt that birds, butterflies, bats and bees - they all get hit by those turbines."
A Northumberland County firm has backed off a plan to build wind turbines on South Mountain in eastern Lebanon County. ...But birds and bats got in the way of the plans, said Justin R. Dunkelberger, chief executive for Penn Wind.
He explained that the South Mountain site is part of a bird-migration path and is also frequented by bats.
"As a wind developer, we have to be concerned with birds and bats," Dunkelberger said. "We want to be responsible developers."
While the open sky is big enough for 400-foot-high wind turbines and migratory birds, animal conservationists are airing their concerns about the threat windmills pose to wildlife.
"Any place thinking about installation (of wind turbines) should take years studying the issue," Keith Bildstein, director of conservation science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, said Friday. "That is a prescription the wind industry apparently finds distasteful."
Bildstein and other local conservationists and bird-watchers say the wind industry fails to adequately study bird migration patterns before wind projects break ground.
Two years ago, PPM commissioned a study to learn how many bats could be affected by its proposed wind farm. Biologists hung nets for two nights in 10 locations and caught 138 bats. Cale calculates that if 24 nets -- that's one for each turbine -- were left up through the 14 combined weeks of seasonal bat migration, more than 16,000 bats would be caught.
Each net covered an area of about 1,000 square feet. That compares to 66,000 square feet carved out by a turbine's rotating blades.
"It's going to be a slaughterhouse," Cale said.
Great egrets -- large, long-legged white birds -- are considered endangered. Terry L. Master, an East Stroudsburg University biology professor, has described Wade Island as the only colony of great egrets in the state.
Norfolk Southern Corp. has crossed the Enola freight yards in East Pennsboro Twp. off its list of potential sites for a wind turbine.
The reason has a lot to do with nearby Wade Island in the Susquehanna River, a legally protected bird sanctuary for great egrets.
"We heard the concerns expressed about the proximity of the bird sanctuary," Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband said. "We will look elsewhere in our 22-state network."
Pennsylvania is also well known for its raptor migration, which truly is a natural splendor at Hawk Mountain in Kempton during the fall and spring.
The golden eagle, which has been seen along the Delaware River and on Kittatinny Ridge, is believed to be the raptor at highest risk. Golden eagles migrate along the Allegheny Front, on the eastern edge of the Appalachian Plateau, which is also a great wind resource.
"Wind is a renewable resource, so that's positive. No carbon emissions. No air pollution. From that standpoint, (wind turbines) are an ideal source of power," Brandes said.
However, in Pennsylvania, the best time for turbines is the winter, yet peak power loads are in the summer, Brandes said.
And these 400-foot-tall turbines - taller than the Statue of Liberty - are land intensive. It takes 2,000 modern turbines to replace one typical coal-fired power plant, of which Pennsylvania has 25 in the commonwealth, said Brandes.
Plus, they may have an impact on habitat and bird safety.
It wasn't supposed to be a debate Wednesday night. Gamesa invited Tyrone residents to come to an open house and ask questions about what 15 windmills atop Ice Mountain might mean for them. ...But those curious residents were among the few. Dozens turned out, bringing their opposition.
"Not only is it a unique area and a natural heritage area, but it's also an area that provides all the drinking water for the city of Tyrone," said Dr. Stan Kotala, president of the Juniata Valley Audubon Society.
[Dr. Michael] Gannon is an acknowledged expert on bats, bat ecology and bat population ecology. He has studied bats all over the world for over 20 years ...Gannon stated that he does not oppose responsible alternative energy development such as wind, but he does oppose development that does not require the developer to use sound current scientific based evaluations to evaluate the environmental impact of the site before construction occurs.
He said that "thus far no site in PA has done so, and no requirements (voluntary or not) exist that are sound and current in their science." ..."The chances that a wind facility in this area will have a negative impact on our bat populations appear to be extremely high," said Gannon. "The proliferation of numerous wind sites in this part of the country, most of which have or are being documented to have such an effect on bats, could be the most serious threat to our bat population, our biological insect control, that science has seen."
Tyrone Mayor James Kilmartin has said that 70 percent of borough residents he has been in contact with oppose the wind farm project. This is a similar result to the Harrisburg Patriot News poll that revealed that 83 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose industrial wind farms on state forest lands.
Juniata Valley Audubon Society (JVAS) President Stan Kotala, M.D. has been at the forefront of the opposition in Gamesa's proposed wind farm on Ice Mountain. He said that the JVAS is not opposed to wind energy, but asks that wind energy be developed in an ecologically sound manner, avoiding ecologically sensitive areas, such as Ice Mountain.
"We ask that wind energy developers follow US Fish and Wildlife Service Guidelines calling for the avoidance of migratory pathways and unfragmented forests," said Kotala.
The Pennsylvania Biological Survey has gone to bat for the bats in a swirling policy debate over whether commercial wind power development should be permitted in state forests.
The debate pits advocates of wind power as an alternative energy source against those who fear that windmills are harmful to bats and birds.
Last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the bald and golden eagles from the federal Endangered Species List.
While eagle populations have grown in every state, we also learned last month that five species of common birds in Pennsylvania are declining at an alarming rate.
According to Audubon Pennsylvania, the golden-winged warbler population has declined an astounding 98 percent since 1967, followed by the Eastern meadowlark (86 percent), wood thrush (62 percent), American bittern (59 percent) and ruffed grouse (22 percent).
Three of the species depend on forest habitats, one lives in wetlands and the fifth resides in agricultural areas.
Five different birds, three different habitats and they are all suffering. That's not good.