Weld, Maine - Friends of Maine's Mountains (FMM) is calling upon the Maine Audubon (MAS) to retract the findings of their recently published study attempting to validate the compatibility of wind power and Maine's wildlife populations and the habitats that support them.
FMM recognizes that the MAS has always held itself to a high standard and been at forefront of wildlife advocacy in Maine, but this study clearly falls far short of that tradition and is troubling in it's implications for Maine's environment.
According to FMM, the study, Wind Power & Wildlife in Maine,is deficient in the necessary scientific rigor required to conclude that industrial wind turbines are not detrimental to Maine's wildlife and their habitats.
FMM also encourages MAS to reconcile the large sums of corporate funding they receive annually from several companies in the wind industry, and if those donors had any influence on their findings. In addition, Mainers need to know if the MAS agrees with the National Audubon Society's (NAS) emphatic challenge to the recently released U.S. Department of the Interior's proposed rule change. The proposed change would give wind energy developers a 30 year exemption from criminal prosecution for killing Bald Eagles and other migratory birds at their wind "farms."
Within 24 hours of the MAS report, 2013 NAS President and CEO David Yarnold offered the following response to Interior's new rule: "Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check. It's outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America's symbol, the Bald Eagle." The results of the MAS study and their lack of due diligence in this area put them in direct conflict with the NAS.
At their December 4th Falmouth presentation, MAS disclosed that the study did not rely on direct investigations or field work to determine mortality rates of birds and bats from turbine collisions or any evaluation of mortality rates for migratory birds. The report acknowledges the paucity of data:
"We have very little information about either bat migration or resident bat populations (locations and numbers) in Maine. Bird migration routes have been poorly studied, and we know very little about migratory pathways through the state. Maine's Important Bird Area project is incomplete, especially in the northern half of the state, but could provide information about areas more likely to have higher concentrations of migratory birds."
FMM sees these deficiencies as major red flags that clearly undermine the validity and conclusions of a report that condones building at least 1000 40+ story bird-killing machines across Maine. Moreover, nowhere in the MAS study is there a quantification of presumed benefits from wind power. No valid impact/benefit analysis can occur without quantification. If Maine installs 3000 megawatts of wind capacity, as the MAS report promotes, it will provide less than five percent additional electricity to the New England grid, and because of its physical deficiencies, it will not measurably reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Rand Stowell, FMM Founder and Chairman said "The MAS report is troubling and should be withdrawn and re-evaluated. The MAS has an ethical and moral obligation to their members, the people of Maine, and the wildlife they were founded to protect. The conclusions presented to the public in this study are not in keeping with that mandate. MAS needs to rethink its position, open it up to a higher standard of scientific review, and get it right."
Dr. Rebecca Holberton, Professor of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine, Orono. She is an extensively published researcher in the field of bird migration for over a quarter of a century, and in her reaction she agreed with FMM's position on the MAS report:
"FMM's concerns are at the heart of the weaknesses of the MAS report. The report is not a report of actual findings but is a hypothetical model or hypothesis that would need to be tested and confirmed empirically before anyone could accept its validity. It is troubling that, although the report is replete with disclaimers and acknowledged weakness by the authors themselves regarding the types of information that went into the work and the limitations of any conclusions stemming from it, it has been confidently presented to the public as a tool that would reliably serve as guidelines for siting land-based wind energy development. I'm not aware that during any stage of the project's development that any effort was made by MAS to bring in biologists from academia, as well as state and federal wildlife agencies for input.
"Having recently hosted an extensive public talk on the topic by me and my colleagues just a few months ago, I can attest that the leadership of MAS is well-aware of the extensive research in the region on bird and bat migration, having recently hosted an extensive public talk on the topic by me and my colleagues just a few months ago. There is nothing in this document that addresses collision risk taking into account new studies that show that wind energy development may be having a greater impact on birds than previously thought and that higher turbines result in greater collisions. Further, although the main approach in the MAS model focuses solely on habitat characteristics on the ground, there are no studies showing that on the ground habitat characteristics have anything to do with the spatial densities of birds aloft during migration.
"Regardless of the motivation behind MAS's decision to produce these purported guidelines without seeking knowledgeable resources for input and comment, some may consider it, at best, a catalyst for improving how we approach spatial mapping of wildlife risk, and at worst, a poorly-developed model to be misused by those looking for an open endorsement for wind energy development in the state without being made to consider the true viability of alternative energy sources. How we balance the different ways we impact the environment should be based on factual information, which, when used properly, should lead all folks with different perspectives to the same conclusions. The MAS report fails miserably in that regard."
FMM says that through a proper investigation, the effects of wildlife degradation due to wind turbine collisions would and should be determined. Michael Bond, a member of FMM's Board of Directors and a nationally recognized author on environmental issues added, "The wind industry in Maine is being given a free pass. This endorsement of industrial wind has no basis in a cost/benefit analysis. They need to reevaluate their association with industrial wind in Maine."
FMM also sees the study as an attempt to gloss over what many believe is the untold story of wind power in Maine. Richard McDonald, another FMM Board member is concerned that, "In truth, the ratepayers are also an endangered species. The impact on our pocketbooks should make all of us question its value. Wind hasn't reduced our energy costs and it hasn't replaced any fossil fuel power plants. In fact, Maine is already one of the country's leaders when it comes to clean energy, so why is Audubon so willing to accept all the negative impacts of wind? It's barely useful, and entirely unnecessary."
FMM welcomes the opportunity to work directly with MAS and other interested parties to clearly define the impact of industrial wind development on Maine's wildlife and its treasured natural resources.