The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing an environmental impact statement to evaluate the potential of issuing incidental take permits for protected bird and bat species if regional wind industry development grows.
According to a news release by the service, the states within the plan are Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. It is called the Midwest Wind Energy Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
The draft is being prepared by the service, state wildlife agencies from seven of the eight states within the planning area, the American Wind Energy Association and a consortium of wind energy companies.
The plan addresses incidental take of eight species that may be injured or killed at wind turbine facilities in the area. The species are the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, Kirtland’s warbler, Great Lakes and northern Great Plains populations of the Piping Plover and the Least Tern which are all listed under the Endangered Species Act. The permits will also cover bald eagle deaths along with any damages to the little brown bat.
According to the website for The Conservation Fund, an organization that is working with wind energy companies on the new plan, the undertaking will cover 27 million acres of land with the goal of thousands of new turbines that could impact 30 endangered species.
The habitat conservation plans will serve as an agreement between a landowner, a wind turbine company and the service to allow otherwise lawful activities on their property that may result in the incidental death, injury or harassment of protected species.
Eliza Savage, eagle regulations coordinator for the service, said in a previous interview that wind energy does not have required regulations but the service has outlined voluntary guidelines.
Currently, wind companies hire firms to conduct studies prior to building and post-construction bird and bat mortality numbers are reported by wind farm companies to the service and stored in databases.
In addition, the service has established a rule that allows for permits to be issued for reoccurring eagle deaths in the same location as a direct result of collisions from rotating wind turbines, according to the federal register. The service also allows for nest damage and extended the eagle take permits from five years to 30 years.
In response, the American Bird Conservancy, a bird conservation organization, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior last June.
The lawsuit claims the service has violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act by creating the permits without involving public input or studying potential impacts.
The Confederated Tribes of Arizona has joined the lawsuit stating they were not consulted prior to the ruling that impacts species as required under law.
Dr. Michael Hutchins, national coordinator for the bird-smart wind energy campaign for the conservancy, said he is concerned that turbines could cause a significant impact to species of economic value to people such as bat species that save billions of dollars annually on a national-scale by eating insects.
He said a peer-reviewed study based on data collected by the wind industry predicts that when 20 percent of the country’s electrical energy is wind-generated by 2030, there will be 1.4 million birds killed each year. Studies also indicate a higher number of bats are killed at wind facilities than birds with 900,000 killed at 2012 building levels.
“As an organization, we calculated that if we have 35 percent of our energy generated by wind, we could lose 5 million birds annually and that doesn’t include the number killed due to collisions with hundreds of miles of associated power-lines that could cross over critical habitat to carry the energy into the grid,” said Hutchins.
The study also indicated that the higher the turbine, the greater the likelihood it will impact wildlife.
He said several methods to reduce bird and bat deaths have been discussed by biologists such as turning the turbines off during migration periods, installing sounds that deter bats or changing the lighting to reduce collisions.
However, he said studies of these methods have not been adequately funded and they have not been adopted by wind companies.
“We asked the department of interior to do a national programmatic wind environmental impact statement to show the areas where energy should not be developed because of the risk to birds and bats, but they said they didn’t have enough money to do it,” said Hutchins. “So we’ve been very supportive of them doing this in the Midwest and we like the fact that they’re actually going through the process and talking about the potential risk to wildlife.”
He said the location of wind farms remains the greatest single factor in reducing mortality rates.
“We believe that siting is the most important factor and that where you put them is critical,” said Hutchins. “If you put them in habitat where large numbers of birds are concentrating or breeding or moving like migratory routes, you’re going to kill a lot of birds. Unfortunately, the voluntary guidelines for wind energy development are just not keeping them out of sensitive areas for birds.”
In addition, he said the group is concerned about a bill in the U.S. Congress that would prevent enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
On June 3, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit any arm of the federal government, including the U.S. fish & Wildlife Service, from prosecuting violations of the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) offered Amendment H.R. 2578 that states, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to prosecute or hold liable any person or corporation for a violation of section 2 of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”
The bill has been sent to the Senate for a vote.
A public meeting on the plan in the Midwest will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on July 16 in Columbia, Mo., at the Battle High School Commons located at 7575 E. St. Charles Road.
The service will also host an online public meeting at 1 p.m. on July 28 at http://www.midwestwindenergyhcpeis.org.
Regional Wind HCP Coordinator for the service, Rick Amidon, can be reached by phone at (612) 713-5164.