Proper windmill siting necessary to spare birds, bats

The Sandusky Register.|John Hageman|July 30, 2017
OhioImpact on BirdsImpact on Bats

The recent cancelation of the proposed Camp Perry demonstration windmill was celebrated by the American Bird Conservancy of Virginia, and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory — a local bird research, conservation and education organization headquartered in Oak Harbor.

Using migratory birds to test the best and worst times to allow the blades to spin to see how many are killed was ultimately determined to be a poorly conceived idea.

Meanwhile, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation project that proposes to build six experimental windmills in Lake Erie near Cleveland was delayed another because of them submitting poorly-performed and misleading environmental pre-construction studies — downplaying the impacts to migratory birds crossing Lake Erie.

The Office of Coastal management in Sandusky provided them with general information on avoiding shipping lanes, fish spawning reefs, known toxic and/or shifting sediments, shipwrecks, favored commercial and recreational fishing and other considerations, which LEEDCo has been conveying as ODNR approval of their project.

In the meantime, they are currently trying to rally the support of local union members by touting optimistic job figures that might result if construction of the windmills would occur.

The BSBO is not opposed to windmills in general, however, when windmills are built in poorly-sited locations such as primary migratory bird corridors or near their nesting colonies or foraging locations, they lead to substantial numbers of casualties.

As an example of the magnitude that poorly-sited windmills can have on local bird populations, the Altamont Pass facility in California killed 60-to-80 Golden eagles per year, until they deactivated some of the most offensive units.

While it is true that windmills currently have much less of an impact on bird populations than feral cats, automobiles, tall buildings, utility towers and cables, there should be no pride in only causing significant additive mortality, which is skyrocketing as the industry expands.

Based upon available data, current estimates suggest the direct deaths of 324,000 birds and nearly 900,000 bats per year from windmills. However, researchers must rely on only partial information, because of the suppression of mortality data by windmill operators.

Current post-construction bird and bat mortality surveys do not account for many of the casualties, because of the biased survey methodology used by consulting companies that minimize reported impacts.

Some examples include random sampling of only a fraction of the number of windmills within each wind farm, excluding animals that land outside of a defined fall circle, not counting wounded (but not dead) birds, weeds, rocks or crops that hide animals and overnight removal by scavengers.

Accurate bird mortality data already tallies into the tens of millions when electric transmission towers and lines are added to the totals.

With windmill blades spinning over 100 mph, raptor collisions with them comprise over 10 percent of all bird strikes, but nearly ¾ of all bird species killed are migratory songbirds.

Bats suffer high mortalities not only to blade strikes, but also to barotrauma from the changes in barometric pressure created by the rotating blades, which cause their lungs to collapse.

To minimize migratory bird and bat mortality rates, the BSBO conservation committee will meet with local lawmakers to suggest legislation aimed to keep wind farms away from primary migratory pathways and sensitive habitats.

Especially important is a five-mile buffer from Great Lakes shorelines that has been proposed by the Ohio and Michigan Chapters of The Nature Conservancy and the American Bird Conservancy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the BSBO support at least a three-mile buffer zone.

Ducks Unlimited Great Lakes regional office also recently expressed concern for waterfowl casualties from Great Lakes waterfront windmills.

The variety and numbers of migrating songbirds, especially warblers, are spectacular enough to attract tens of thousands of bird watchers here each spring, spending approximately 40 million dollars in our communities annually.

Even in lower risk areas of Ohio, windmills have already killed federally endangered species of birds and bats, so it is especially important to not build new ones in Lake Erie, within five miles of its coast, in identified migratory tributary corridors or near other environmentally-sensitive habitats.

The BSBO has identified these environmentally sensitive areas as red zones that should receive higher environmental scrutiny before permission to erect windmills is granted by the Power Siting Board.

University experts, wildlife agencies or legitimate scientific research studies, not just consulting reports, should be used to help them with their decisions of where to allow projects to proceed.

Wind energy is poised to increase greatly in Ohio. Still in the early growth stages, it is possible yet to enact rules and guidelines to avoid allowing windmills in areas that could lead to unacceptably high levels of irreversible collateral damage to our migratory bird and bat species populations.

Windmills last 20-to-30 years each. But extinction is forever.


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