Wind energy legislation that takes the safety of birds into account will greatly benefit species like the Golden Eagle.
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) President George Fenwick today offered praise for first-of-its-kind legislation to require wind energy and other renewable energy producers to ensure their facilities protect birds and other wildlife resources. The bill, which was drafted by Colorado Republican State Senator David Balmer, is called the “Bird Protection Act” and will be introduced to the state’s legislature in January 2015.
“Colorado should be very proud that it may be the first state to enact wind energy legislation that takes the safety of birds into account,” Fenwick said.
The legislation comes at a time when the wind industry is experiencing explosive, unregulated growth. According to ABC, there are about 52,000 active wind turbines in the U.S.. The Colorado bill references two recent studies: One that estimates that 573,000 birds were killed annually by the wind industry at 2012 build-out levels and another that predicts about 1.4 million will be killed annually by 2030 if the current industry expansion continues as planned without regulation.
“Coloradans treasure their environment. This bill will protect our sacred Bald Eagles and other bird species that currently are being killed in alarming numbers,” Senator Balmer said. “This legislation will require prudent steps renewable energy producers must take as they site and operate their facilities.”
The Colorado legislation is in contrast to federal voluntary guidelines for the wind industry. “The federal guidelines are simply not being followed. We knew that would be the case when they were announced and now, all signs point to them being frequently ignored,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.
Studies estimate that that about 83,000 raptors, including eagles, are being killed annually at wind facilities. Further, the bill reiterates the fact that on December 9, 2013, the Department of the Interior extended the term for programmatic incidental take permits to kill Bald and Golden Eagles from 5 years to 30 years and to grant special exemptions for the wind energy industry. The agency did so without filing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is a detailed scientific analysis of the potential impacts that a project has on the environment, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and without consideration of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). ABC has filed a lawsuit on this same issue.
“We hope that this bill will become a national model for other states looking to fill in the gaps created by weak federal regulations, which are voluntary, rather than mandatory, and largely based on industry self-regulation” said Hutchins. Hutchins consulted with Senator Balmer during the bill’s development.
The key provision of the bill is that it would require that wind energy producers follow “Bird Smart wind energy” standards, including:
- An independent pre-construction environmental assessment to be completed that demonstrates that the wind facility is not located in an area of high risk to birds, such as a known migratory flight path, nesting area, or wetlands;
- Use of construction practices and technology that follow best practices for preventing birds from colliding with the wind energy facility;
- Appropriate post-construction assessments to monitor bird impacts;
- Post-construction practices that return the habitat surrounding the wind facility to its natural state;
- Employment of operational practices that minimize bird collisions with wind turbines, including the use of radar, seasonal shutdowns, and burying of associated power lines;
- Certification that all requested actions detailed in the voluntary wind energy guidelines issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have been performed;
- Receipt of an FWS incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act or BGEPA, as appropriate.
The bill references a host of benefits provided by birds and bats, including that fact that birds are crucial for seed dispersion, which fosters biodiversity; and the role played by bats and birds in pollination and insect control, the latter reducing the need for harmful pesticides.