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Group to look at wind farms' effects on grouse

Scientists are pretty sure these days just what oil and gas development do to nearby greater sage grouse. But less is known for sure about wind turbines - which generate noise and provide tall roosts for predators, among other potential issues. Now, a group of biologists, energy developers and electric utilities is pursuing several long-term projects to study how wind farms affect the bird, which is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Scientists are pretty sure these days just what oil and gas development do to nearby greater sage grouse.

But less is known for sure about wind turbines - which generate noise and provide tall roosts for predators, among other potential issues.

Now, a group of biologists, energy developers and electric utilities is pursuing several long-term projects to study how wind farms affect the bird, which is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Nothing is finalized yet, but the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative's Sage Grouse Research Collaborative is considering possibly four studies lasting at least 10 years at $250,000 per study per year.

The effort's backers include Renewable Energy Systems Americas, the developer proposing a 170-turbine wind farm along China Mountain southwest of Rogerson, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which manages sage grouse in Idaho. Other members include Rocky Mountain Power, the Nature Conservancy, the Wyoming Audubon Society and several other pertinent federal and state agencies.

Researchers would focus on projects that are planned to be built within the next few years, providing grouse... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Scientists are pretty sure these days just what oil and gas development do to nearby greater sage grouse.

But less is known for sure about wind turbines - which generate noise and provide tall roosts for predators, among other potential issues.

Now, a group of biologists, energy developers and electric utilities is pursuing several long-term projects to study how wind farms affect the bird, which is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Nothing is finalized yet, but the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative's Sage Grouse Research Collaborative is considering possibly four studies lasting at least 10 years at $250,000 per study per year.

The effort's backers include Renewable Energy Systems Americas, the developer proposing a 170-turbine wind farm along China Mountain southwest of Rogerson, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which manages sage grouse in Idaho. Other members include Rocky Mountain Power, the Nature Conservancy, the Wyoming Audubon Society and several other pertinent federal and state agencies.

Researchers would focus on projects that are planned to be built within the next few years, providing grouse data both before and after a wind farm disturbs the landscape, said Jim Sedinger, a professor of wildlife ecol at the University of Nevada-Reno and a member of the grouse group's steering committee.

Their results won't be available in time for any wind projects slated for construction in the next few years. But as wind power continues to grow in popularity across the West, Sedinger said he hopes the group's findings will provide long-term certainty for both the industry and government regulators.

"I think the bottom line is that with any of these energy developments, and solar's another, there's no free lunch. There will be negative impacts of one sort or another," Sedinger said.

The effort is modeled after similar research on prairie chickens in the Midwest. That data isn't usable, however, because the two birds are different species that rely on different habitats, Sedinger said.

The studies would be long enough to take into account multiple generations of grouse, he noted. What information has come out of Wyoming - estimated to be the home to half of Western sage-grouse populations - has shown that birds born after a wind farm begins operating may be more likely to leave an area.

"Grouse are pretty faithful to particular locations," Sedinger said. "You might not see effects for a generation or two."

Though the proposals are still far from fleshed out, it's conceivable that a project like China Mountain could end up serving as a research site. RES Americas was one of the group's initial members and views such "proactive" work as important, said Project Manager Nicole Hughes.

Funding is likely the effort's next major hurdle, and once again is in the early stages of being discussed. Four projects for 10 years would cost an estimated $10 million, possibly paid for by the various members and other groups they're associated with, Sedinger said.

Federal and industry funds may be the most secure options for now: Sedinger said he's aware of how tight many state budgets are at the moment. Tom Hemker, who handles habitat programs for Fish and Game, noted the need for money but also said knowledge may be one of the greatest things his agency and others can offer.

"The states have a lot of expertise on sage grouse research and management," Hemker said.


Source: http://www.magicvalley.com/...

APR 12 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/25620-group-to-look-at-wind-farms-effects-on-grouse
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