United States Fish and Wildlife Service predicts that between 8 and 14 American bald eagles could be killed annually if New Era Wind Farm is built as currently designed. The outcome of USFWS's eagle mortality models are dramatically higher than one eagle every-other-year as predicted by New Era's consultant Westwood Professional Services.
In November 2012, New Era was the first wind facility in the nation to apply to the USFWS for an "Incidental Take Permit" to be allowed to kill bald eagles with their wind turbines without the danger of federal prosecution. Bald eagles are protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Without an ITP, killing an eagle is against federal law. The ITP process for New Era is not yet completed.
The eagle mortality rates were one part of extensive analysis and comments that USFWS provided in response to New Era's updated Avian and Bat Protection Plan (ABPP) required by the State of Minnesota. Overall, the USFWS found a number of problems with the ABPP methodology and conclusions. This included a warning about killing golden eagles, which also fly through the area. The Service made it clear that there is no possibility of obtaining an ITP for golden eagles in this area of the country, so that killing one would be a federally prosecutable offense.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provided comments on the same ABPP. The DNR raised concerns about Northern Harriers, Henslow Sparrow, bats and other wildlife potentially impacted by the project and the lack of data provided by New Era. Northern Harriers are listed as a bird of national concern by the USFWS and a Species of Greatest Conservation Need by DNR.
Goodhue County is located within the broad corridor of the Mississippi River Flyway. This is the largest migration route in North America. Millions of birds pass through and stop over this area on their annual spring and fall travels. The New Era ABPP shows a failure to perform avian migration field studies despite the project's advanced stage in the State permitting process. Bats are also high on the list of concerns expressed by USFWS and the MN DNR. Bats are a keystone species known to die in large numbers at wind facilities
Few wildlife impact studies have been done before, or after, the construction of industrial wind facilities in the United States. However, the studies that have been done suggest high mortality of birds and bats. Raptors, such a eagles, are known to be at high risk of being struck and killed by wind turbine blades. A study in SW Minnesota showed a 47% reduction in raptor numbers after construction of wind turbines. It is not clear how many died, and how many abandoned the area as no-longer-suitable habitat. Bats die both from blade strikes and barotrauma.
New Era Wind Farm is a 78 MW industrial facility proposed for central Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota. The project became nationally infamous under its previous owner, Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens. During Pickens' ownership the project was called AWA Goodhue and was wholely owned by his Dallas based Mesa Power. The lack of local public support and the high number of educated and concerned citizens has made this the most controversial wind project in Minnesota history.
The previous ABPP for this project was rejected by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission at a hearing on February 23, 2012. It is unclear when the MPUC may hold a hearing on the updated ABPP. Due to Minnesota State laws promoting industrial wind, this project is not required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as required of other industries.
The Coalition for Sensible Siting is proud of the extensive and important feedback citizens provided on the ABPP. The USFWS and the MN DNR provided excellent and thorough review and comment on the ABPP. Many concerns raised by citizens (below) where confirmed by USFWS and MN DNR.
Links to the updated New Era Wind Farm Avian and Bat Protection Plan (4 parts) and citizen comments can be found by clicking here.