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Authority weighs wind farm plan

Some of the same conservationists who laud wind power as a cleaner, renewable resource are concerned about the turbine proposals. They fear bats and birds will get caught in the powerful windmill blades or the turbines will scare them away. ''It's not recommended that wind farms be built where there is a large concentration of birds,'' said Rick Wiltraut, a local ornithologist. ''Unfortunately, all that area is prime habitat for neotropical birds.''

Conservationists laud the idea, but turbines could harm birds, bats, some wildlife experts fear

In the Pocono Mountains, there is a special spot where the songbirds gather.

On their way to and from their Caribbean winter homes, golden-winged warblers, whippoorwill and other neotropical birds feed on and nest near the blueberry and huckleberry bushes in the breezy barrens of Tunkhannock Township.

That same breeze is attracting wind chasers, alternative-energy companies hoping to harness the wind and feed an electric power grid with green energy. They're looking to put turbines, standing possibly 400 feet from ground to blade tip, on prized property surrounding Bethlehem's water supply.

Some of the same conservationists who laud wind power as a cleaner, renewable resource are concerned about the turbine proposals. They fear bats and birds will get caught in the powerful windmill blades or the turbines will scare them away.

''It's not recommended that wind farms be built where there is a large concentration of birds,'' said Rick Wiltraut, a local ornithologist.

''Unfortunately, all that area is prime habitat for neotropical birds.''

The Bethlehem Authority -- which owns the... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Conservationists laud the idea, but turbines could harm birds, bats, some wildlife experts fear

In the Pocono Mountains, there is a special spot where the songbirds gather.

On their way to and from their Caribbean winter homes, golden-winged warblers, whippoorwill and other neotropical birds feed on and nest near the blueberry and huckleberry bushes in the breezy barrens of Tunkhannock Township.

That same breeze is attracting wind chasers, alternative-energy companies hoping to harness the wind and feed an electric power grid with green energy. They're looking to put turbines, standing possibly 400 feet from ground to blade tip, on prized property surrounding Bethlehem's water supply.

Some of the same conservationists who laud wind power as a cleaner, renewable resource are concerned about the turbine proposals. They fear bats and birds will get caught in the powerful windmill blades or the turbines will scare them away.

''It's not recommended that wind farms be built where there is a large concentration of birds,'' said Rick Wiltraut, a local ornithologist.

''Unfortunately, all that area is prime habitat for neotropical birds.''

The Bethlehem Authority -- which owns the watershed spanning 23,000 acres in Carbon and Monroe counties -- is evaluating the two companies that want to build wind farms on its property for their financial and technical wherewithal.

Water officials are far from sold on the idea of a wind farm on such sensitive land, but with early income estimates of at least $500,000 a year, officials say it's worth considering.

''This could potentially bring a significant amount of income to the utility, and we have an obligation to our rate-payers to explore that,'' said David Brong, the city's director of water and sewer resources. ''We also have an obligation to be stewards of the land.''

If the authority decides move forward, its consultants may recommend a wind energy company as early as January or suggest the authority seek more proposals, authority executive director Steve Repasch said. A company then would spend a couple of years testing the wind and, Repasch pointed out, looking for impacts on wildlife.

So far, two companies have expressed interest in authority properties.

In one proposal, Iberdrola Renewables -- a subsidiary of the world's largest wind energy company -- is considering the Tunkhannock property in Monroe County and the Penn Forest ridges in Carbon County as wind farm sites, both of which are owned by the authority. A proposal from Delsea Energy of New Jersey is looking only at Penn Forest.

Each property has distinct characteristics. The Tunkhannock barrens contain low-lying foliage: scrub oak, mountain laurel and pink-petaled wild azaleas. It is where songbirds and butterflies gather.

Large birds of prey prefer the authority's wooded Penn Forest ridges, just north of a major raptor migration route along the Kittatiny Ridge. Osprey nest near the Penn Forest reservoir.

It is unknown what bats live underneath nearby rocks and in small caves. Discoveries of certain species,such as the endangered Indiana bat, have been deal-breakers in other parts of the country.

The questions being raised in Bethlehem echo a nationwide conversation about how to protect wildlife while creating cleaner energy sources. From northern California to the New Jersey coast, environmental groups are in the peculiar position of choosing between green power and wildlife conservation.

They want to protect the few from being killed, but the instrument of death -- turbines -- holds the promise of saving many from the impact of dirtier energy.

''Think about what happens with fossil fuels,'' said Dork Sahagian, Lehigh University's director of environmental initiative and a professor of earth and environmental sciences. ''You mine coal, strip the mountain away, acidify the streams, which leads to acid rain that falls on the ecosystem, killing the birds.''

In the quest for cleaner technology, environmentalists are debating the best place for turbines. The wind needs to be strong enough to economically justify a wind farm. But many times, those winds occur where birds and bats fly.

''Often you see images of turbines in some cornfield. That's not the case in Pennsylvania,'' said Douglas Gross, a Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife biologist. ''They're not targeting agricultural spots. They're targeting deep woods.''

Unlike a cleared cornfield, wooded properties have to be cleared not only for the turbines but for roads wide enough for trucks to lug large equipment to build and service the turbines. That leads to what conservationists call habitat fragmentation.

Chop down too many trees, and birds, for example, don't have the deep forest for protection from possums, skunks and wildcats. Nesting spots for birds and caves or rocks where bats go during the day can be lost.

''Because you need an acre of timber or brush cleared for each turbine, you are going to have impacts on the habitat,'' said Paul Kerlinger, an avian expert and wind power consultant from Cape May, N.J. ''The communities and the agencies must determine what level of impact is acceptable.''

But while birds might have to find a new home when forests are cleared for turbines, Kerlinger said research shows relatively few birds are cut down by the blades.

Kerlinger pointed to a recent study he did on a 44-turbine wind farm in West Virginia.

''It turned out that there was about one bird killed for every 125 homes powered by electricity generated by the turbines,'' he said.

He said more birds are killed by radio towers, skyscrapers and even household cats, and that turbines are relatively insignificant.

But ornithologist Donald S. Heinzelman, who opposes windmills on Bethlehem Authority land, argues that wind farms can't be looked at in a vacuum. Turbines are just one more threat on top of what wildlife already face, and as more turbines are built along the Appalachians, the threat to birds and bats increases, he said.

''This has the potential impact of chopping up migratory birds,'' said Heintzelman, co-founder of the Wildlife Information Center in Slatington, in an interview.

Heintzelman is working to protect the nearby Kittatinny Ridge, an internationally known migration route for large raptors like hawks and eagles. The ridge is just south of the Penn Forest property, but raptors are not precise about how closely they follow it, he said. Many -- including some bald eagles -- have passed over the Penn Forest property on their way to the ridge, according to local birdwatchers.

Some wind companies, like Iberdrola, are working to combat the negative effects turbines have on wildlife. Company researchers have experimented with turning off the windmills at night, when bats are out and songbirds migrate. They also could kick up the power when it gets really windy to avoid collisions with birds, which tend not to fly when the wind is strong.

Iberdrola is monitoring bat deaths at its southwestern Pennsylvania wind farm and is experimenting with black boxes believed to chase bats away.

''The first year that we did this experiment, it reduced bat mortality by 70 percent,'' said Dave Decaro, senior permit manager with Iberdrola.

Jerry Feaser, Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman, said the companies also can be directed to do timbering in the winter when birds aren't nesting or migrating. That, he said, could minimize the impact of clearing trees, which has to happen to make way for the turbines.

These are all issues the authority will raise in the coming months as it addresses whether its properties are right for a wind farm, Repasch said.

Chances are, there will be many listening, including The Nature Conservancy of Northeast Pennsylvania, a conservation group that has worked to preserve 2,000 acres in Tunkhannock and had offered a few years ago to buy some of the authority's property there.

''I don't want to prejudge a proposal that hasn't been made yet, but there is a concern in siting these wind generators where there are rare species in an oak barren habitat,'' said Cook, whose group supports properly located wind farms.


Source: http://www.mcall.com/news/a...

NOV 29 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/23352-authority-weighs-wind-farm-plan
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