Library filed under Impact on Wildlife from Montana
A California utility that wants to back out of a northwest Montana wind power project is asking a federal judge to decide if the wind farm’s developers did enough to protect a nearby cluster of golden eagles.
NaturEner, which owns and operates three wind farms in Montana, sued a California utility on Friday for breaching contracts to invest in the Rim Rock wind farm. The lawsuit also seeks to prevent the utility from reneging on its contractual promise to buy the renewable energy generated at the facility.
A pair of stories in the last week detailed conflicts between San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) and national environmental groups over two separate wind projects. One of the conflicts appears to have been resolved amicably, while the other is headed to the courtroom. And each story involves the power of flight.
The Montana Audubon Society says 10 species of raptors have been documented breeding at Kevin Rim, including ferruginous hawks, Swainson's hawks, prairie falcons, and golden eagles. The area is also home to nesting American kestrels, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, great-horned owls, and burrowing owls.
When it comes to species of concern, there's a lot to look at. Researchers want to document where active nests are using pictures and GPS coordinates. They want to know what kind of birds are in the area, and how they use the habitat for hunting and raising their young.
The hawks and eagles have been here for generations, they've grown accustomed to the habitat. Now, construction and wind turbines are changing the landscape. "One of the ways that wind turbines come in conflict with birds of prey is the chance of collision, where they'll fly in, and they can be killed by the turbines," Platt says.
Among the birds nesting along the cliffs are the state's highest concentration of rare Ferruginous hawks - 24 nests were documented there in one year - and federally protected golden eagles. Unfortunately, it has become a matter of increasing concern nationally that the giant turbines can cause high mortality among bats and birds, including raptors.
The plan calls for generating power that would be sent to the Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI) to fill in the line when wind power isn’t available. ...Tom Carlsen, a wildlife biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the state agency has "serious concerns regarding negative impacts to wildlife should this proposed project move beyond the feasibility study."
The project came as a surprise to those who live here. There was no community involvement before the announcement and has been very little since. The majority of landowners in the two-mile area surrounding the project are opposed to it. The turbines could be installed as early as next summer.
Federal officials are again delaying whether to list sage grouse in 11 Western states as threatened or endangered -- leaving in limbo until at least 2010 a spate of industries that could face sweeping restrictions if the bird is protected. The chicken-sized grouse ranges from Montana to California alongside livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling and an increasing number of wind power turbines.
A new study by a leading conservation organization warns that construction of wind farms could pose a high risk to wildlife habitat on 8 million acres of land in Montana. "Wind farms have pretty big footprints, and we want to encourage wind developers to put those wind farms in places with the least amount of impact," said Brian Martin, director of science for the Montana Nature Conservancy, the report's author. "Ecological Risk Assessment of Wind Energy Development in Montana" is the first analysis of where the best winds and wildlife intersect in Big Sky Country.
Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation recommends wind turbines be allowed on state land as part of what would be the state's largest privately owned wind farm. The Martinsdale Wind Farm is proposed by Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy. It would be built on 18,000 acres of private and state land in Wheatland and Meagher counties, five miles northeast of Martinsdale. The DNRC has released a draft environmental impact statement on the project for public comment, which will be accepted until March 13.
An estimated 1,200 bats, most of them probably just passing through Montana, were killed after striking wind turbines at the Judith Gap Wind Farm between July 2006 and May 2007, according to a post-construction bird and bat survey. The number surprised Invenergy, which owns the farm, as well as government and private wildlife experts. "It's killing 1,200 bats a year and that's a lot more than anybody anticipated," said Janet Ellis of Montana Audubon, a bird conservation group. ...The study estimates that 406 birds, or 4.52 birds per turbine, were killed during the study period.
As wind power gears up in Montana, the effects of large-scale wind projects on wildlife remain a concern: Birds may be in the clear, but bats are running into trouble. Turbine-related fatalities at Judith Gap Wind Energy Center near Harlowton were 1,206 bats and 406 birds, according to a 2007 preliminary study prepared by TRC Solutions' Laramie, Wyo. office. Roger Schoumacher, a biologist and consultant for TRC, said the bat fatality count is higher than what generally occurs in the West.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was an attempt to pave the way - almost literally - for energy companies to take advantage of pre-approved corridors that cut through public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The problem is that much of the land that would be pre-approved is in sensitive wildlife habitat and cherished wildlands. Routes were chosen more with an eye to economic efficiencies than environmental impacts, and the result is a plan that is blatantly skewed to favor the interests of the energy companies over the interests of the general public. ...The Energy Department recently released a draft of its Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and will be accepting public comment on the statement until mid-February. It plans to hold a public meeting in Helena on Jan. 29, but you can provide your comments now by going to its Web site at corridoreis.anl.gov. We hope Montanans from all over the state will take the opportunity to firmly oppose the plan as it's currently proposed, because it will take all of Montana to sink this awful idea.
Following complaints from farmers, the U.S. Department of Energy is now planning its toughest environmental review of a proposed $120 million power transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta.... Wind farm developers have said the line is critical to construction of their projects. To date, three companies have signed up to use capacity on the line to ship power from wind farms they're planning between Great Falls and the Canadian border.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s coal development plans didn’t attract a lot of love Wednesday in a banquet room full of wildlife biologists. Evan Barrett, the Democratic governor’s chief economic development officer, outlined the plans at the annual meeting of the Wildlife Conservation Society, detailing for about 150 people a vision of seven big wind farms, giant methanol plants, five coal-powered electrical plants and a huge grid of electrical wires to gather the juice and carry it to distant markets in California and Arizona. Dan Pletscher, head of the wildlife biology program at the University of Montana, was in the crowd. “I thought to myself, ‘You’re going to do what to this state?’” Pletscher said in a later talk.