Library filed under Impact on Wildlife from Pennsylvania
How did Gamesa Corporation, a wind-energy company from Spain, find Shaffer Mountain, a small section of the Allegheny Front in Pennsylvania, which lies in Somerset and Bedford counties? Although we do not know all the details, we do know in 2004, that Gov. Rendell and Kathleen McGinty, secretary of Department of Environmental Protection, enticed Gamesa to abandon plans to build in Texas, by promising Gamesa that it would receive millions of dollars in grants, loans, and tax credits, financed with taxpayers' money. Federal income tax shelters will allow Gamesa to avoid paying taxes owed and thereby recover two-thirds of the capital cost of each turbine - about $2 million each. We also know that Gamesa has received tax-free status through 2018 by locating on land that is a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone. Even before Gamesa started construction in our state, the company had purchase agreements and letters of intent to sell 400 megawatts worth of wind-generated power to Pennsylvania utilities. But how did Gamesa find Shaffer Mountain? It's simple: Shaffer Mountain has wind.
State officials expect a decision in six months on whether to allow development of commercial wind-power facilities on state forest land. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been considering the idea for several years. Legislative approval is needed to allow commercial windmills in any of the 20 state forest districts which cover more than 2 million acres. If DCNR and Rendell administration officials give the idea a green light, they would need to find a state lawmaker to sponsor enabling legislation.
This report, authored by the Wind Energy and Bats subcommittee to the Pennsylvania Biological Survey's (PaBS) Mammal Technical Committee, documents the PA Game Commission's direct side-stepping of a long-established memorandum of agreement with the PaBS when the Game Commission developed and finalized the Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement without the review or input of the Biological Survey. The memorandum of agreement was created over 10 years ago to help ensure that the Game Commission obtained advice from experts about actions affecting the mammals inhabiting the Commonwealth.
Using a radio transmitter the size of a shelled pea, John Chenger is studying an endangered bat population that hibernates in an abandoned rail tunnel near the Allegheny Tunnel on the state Turnpike. On April 17, he and his associates at Bat Conservation and Management of Carlisle joined with Sanders Environmental Inc. Centre Hall to tag 15 Indiana bats as the came out of hibernation. "We're trying to figure out where they go," Chenger explained. "Do they go five miles? Do they go 300 miles? It just isn't very well understood at this point."
The Pennsylvania Game Commission today signed cooperative, voluntary agreements with 12 companies to avoid, minimize and potentially mitigate any adverse impacts the development of wind energy may have on the state's wildlife resources.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe will sign cooperative, voluntary agreements with seven companies to avoid, minimize and potentially mitigate any adverse impacts the development of wind energy may have on the state's wildlife resources at a public signing ceremony at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18, in the auditorium of the Game Commission's headquarters.
The survey hasn't lessened the concerns of Rick Koval, of the Fish and Boat Commission's state Timber Rattlesnake Site Assessment and Inventory. Koval said there is a historical den site a mile away and another "robust" den area five miles away. Timber rattlesnakes have a range of five miles, and Koval has seen them three miles from the site. "Will there be an impact on timber rattlesnakes? It depends. If there is a gestation or den site nearby, the answer is yes," Koval said. Surveys for birds, bats, and rare and endangered plants have been completed. The bird and bat surveys, commissioned by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, found the project would have no "biologically significant impacts" to birds, no eagles nest at the site and no federally endangered Indiana bats were located at the site. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources commissioned the rare and endangered plant survey, which concluded the project would not harm any of the plant species or ecological communities. Koval said the bird and bat surveys are inconclusive because there are rare or threatened species that exist nearby. He said there have not been surveys conducted of moth or invertebrate species, including several located at the site. "These wind farm projects are still new to the Eastern U.S. and there's a lot of unknowns," Koval said. "When you have seven miles of roads, transformers, power lines, tons of concrete and the turbines, there's going to be some impact. There needs to be more research during the appropriate seasons to determine how much impact."
NEW PARIS - Residents determined to stop the Shaffer Mountain Wind Farm have issued a notice of intent to file suit with federal and state agencies over environmental concerns. The notices were mailed March 2 by environmental attorney Bradley Tupi who is with Tucker/Arensburg Attorneys, Pittsburgh, and is representing several families within the project area. "We're still in the information gathering stage, but my job is to do whatever I can to protect the interests of my clients out there," Tupi said. Among their concerns is that the project, which will run along the Allegheny Front of the mountain, will impact migrating bird populations including that of the endangered Bald Eagle and Eastern Golden Eagles, he said. Another potential issue is the possible damaging of the Ethel Creek spring head, which provides high-volume, high-quality water for a local fish hatchery, he said. The move gives the residents 30 days with state agencies and 60 days with federal agencies to file suit, he said.
This document includes studies in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
Two bird specialists familiar with the Pennsylvania Game Commission efforts to protect wildlife from wind turbines offered cautious support, although each found things they didn’t like. A bat specialist was more critical. Keith Bildstein, director of conservation science at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Berks County, likes the draft agreement that would establish rules wind-energy developers would voluntarily follow. But he would prefer that the Game Commission impose an immediate moratorium on wind farms being built on high-risk sites, meaning places where wind turbines would be most dangerous to birds and bats. “We need to begin development of wind power at low-risk areas,” Bildstein said. “Do pre-construction and post-construction monitoring. Find the problems.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is on track with plans to create what it believes is the nation's first voluntary cooperative agreement with wind-energy developers to protect birds and bats. Wind-energy developers and outside wildlife advocates have prepared a draft agreement that would impose rules on the fast-growing industry before irreparable damage is done to bird and bat populations, said William A. Capouillez, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management, the Game Commission. "We have broad powers under Title 34," Capouillez said, referring to the 1987 law that authorizes and empowers the Game Commission. "I tell them: Would you rather have the voluntary agreement or Title 34? We could do zero tolerance on bird kills."
A Feb. 2 letter by windpower industry lobbyist Frank Maisano ignored two major problems that industrial windplants face in Pennsylvania: # Huge numbers of industrial-scale wind turbines will be needed to provide even a small fraction of the electricity we use (4,000 utility-scale turbines covering 500 miles of ridgeline to provide 10 percent of the commonwealth’s electricity). # Because Pennsylvania’s winds are relatively modest, industrial windfarms are being built mostly on forested ridgetops to capture the most powerful winds. In the Keystone State, these ridgetops are our last strongholds of unfragmented forests and the unique species there. Readers should be aware that Frank Maisano also was the spokesman for the Global Climate Coalition, a now-defunct umbrella group for companies opposed to the Kyoto treaty, and who dismissed the Kyoto Protocol as largely symbolic in nature.
Golden eagles have ridden the winds that whip across Pennsylvania’s Appalachian ridgetops for centuries, soaring northward to breeding grounds each spring and southward to hunting grounds each fall. Up until now, the eagles have encountered relatively few obstructions during their migrations across the state. But with energy companies scrambling to erect 400-foot windmills that convert those ridgetop winds into electricity, conservationists fear hundreds of eagles could be killed by a technology widely regarded as environmentally friendly. ‘Pennsylvania’s ridge and valley province plays an important role in the development of wind power and as a migratory corridor for eastern golden eagles,'’ said Dan Brauning, supervisor of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wildlife diversity section. ‘’That could mean the future of this small population of eagles hinges on our ability to make responsible and informed decisions concerning the development of wind farms.'’ Wind power is the world’s fastest-growing source of electricity. And with 153 megawatts of wind generation already in place — enough to power about 70,000 homes — Pennsylvania is the top wind power state east of the Mississippi. By 2020, state projections say Pennsylvania could be home to 3,000 megawatts of wind generation, which would require about 2,000 windmills statewide. The expected onslaught of wind farm development has state wildlife and environmental officials scrambling to develop regulations that ensure damage to birds and other wildlife is kept to a minimum. Currently, wind power developers are not required to conduct any wildlife-related studies, leaving regulation of the fast-growing industry largely to local zoning officials.
Game commission wants to make sure birds won’t be harmed by new energy-producing windmills on the Appalachian ridge. Looking through 10-power binoculars from the south lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary years ago, I watched a golden eagle soaring past a red-tailed hawk and a red-shouldered hawk. “Wow,” I wrote in my journal, “golden eagles are BIG.” Since then I have harbored a long-distance, at least a quarter- mile to a half-mile away, love for golden eagles. Unrequited or not, golden eagles deserve our protection, if not our love. Eastern golden eagles are a distinct geographic and genetic population, allowing the Pennsylvania Game Commission to list them as “Pennsylvania vulnerable” for conservation purposes. Their population is remaining stable or rising slightly, with partial evidence being the fall 2006 migration numbers recorded at hawk-watch sites along Appalachian ridges, going from north to south: Bake Oven Knob, 130; Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, 170; Second Mountain, 127; Waggoner’s Gap, 275; Allegheny Front, 222. (For more on the counts, see www.hawkcount.org.)
I strongly agree with Laura Jackson’s recent letter pointing out that the ecological costs of industrial windfarms on Pennsylvania’s forested ridgetops far exceed their benefits. These costs include massive forest fragmentation to construct and maintain the 400-foot tall turbines, scalping of ridgetops to develop heavy-duty roads for maintenance, and further carving of the forest for the construction of substations and transmission lines. In addition to this large-scale forest destruction, there’s also the huge problem of bat deaths due to turbine blades, to the extent of 50-100 bats killed per turbine per year in forested ridgetop settings. Proponents of ridgetop windfarms attempt to justify forest fragmentation and direct mortality of bats and birds by claiming that there will be a significant reduction in greenhouse gases as a result of windfarm operation. The reality is that it would require 4,000 industrial-scale wind turbines covering 500 miles of the commonwealth’s ridgetops to meet just 10 percent of Pennsylvania’s energy needs. On the Keystone State’s forested ridgetops, the huge ecological costs of industrial windfarms far exceed their small environmental benefits.
Standing outside the home of Bill and Rosina Martz along the Susquehanna River, it's easy to see Mahantongo Mountain and even easier to imagine how the landscape would change once 33 or more wind turbines are built. Gamesa Energy of Spain plans to build a 50-megawatt wind farm along the summit of Mahantongo Mountain. Township officials and local residents say the company is looking at a six-mile section of the mountain, starting near Route 147 north of Millersburg and running east to Deibler's Gap in Mifflin Twp. That size wind farm would require about 33 turbines, each of which would stand 416 feet above the mountain ridge with a single propeller blade reaching nearly 300 feet from end to end. They would be spaced about 1,000 feet apart.
Johnstown veterinarian Tom Dick is a longtime bird-watcher and a battle-scarred veteran of local environmental struggles. So, it’s no surprise to find him at the forefront of concerns about the threat that wind turbines could present to migrating birds and bats. Dick is especially worried about the effect large-scale development of wind farms might have on the rugged and largely unspoiled Allegheny Front, the mountainous wall that stretches north and south along the Cambria-Somerset-Bedford county borders. And like many opponents to the rapid pace of wind-energy development, he is afraid the true cost of the industry will not be known until it is too late for some species.
Two golden eagles that soared along the Allegheny Front ridge in Central Pennsylvania late last year and are now gliding over the hills of West Virginia and Kentucky might one day help determine where new windmills will be built in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the East. The wide-winged raptors are wearing tiny radio telemetry transmitters that allow National Aviary researchers to track their migration routes and eventually develop the first bird's-eye-view data showing where electric wind turbines should be built and not built to minimize the killing of eagles and other big birds. Most wind turbine development has occurred without any scientific research on the consequences to migrating birds, according to Todd Katzner, director of conservation and field research at the National Aviary on the North Side. That has increased the risk that the turbine blades, some more than 100 feet long, will become bird slicers and dicers.
Is the region’s explosion of windmills a threat to migrating birds, including golden eagles? A fledgling partnership between the National Aviary and the Johnstown-based Allegheny Plateau Chapter of the Audubon Society is working to answer that question. The groups are trapping golden eagles as they migrate past the Allegheny Front Hawkwatch near Central City. Global positioning transmitters are attached to the birds’ backs to track their movements. The study is designed to provide information that may help to save one of the most majestic birds of eastern North America from the perceived threat posed by the rapid development of wind farms along a critical migration route.
The western wind that whips across Pittsburgh into the mountain ridges of central Pennsylvania has the power to send thousands of migrating eagles soaring for miles and to keep 115-foot-long windmill blades spinning. But if birds and blades interact, the results could be fatal. The National Aviary on the North Side and Powdermill Avian Research Center in Westmoreland County are partners in a project to track the biannual migration of eastern golden eagles through the Appalachian Mountains. They plan to share what they learn with agencies that permit wind farms.