We have several important wildlife issues to bring to your attention. This is A LOT to digest but please stick with us and please send comments on two pending federal proposals noted below.
New science is proving that proposed wind industry strategies to avoid or minimize bat kills are not sufficient to protect the survival of the species. Whether you are concerned about the prospect of additional costs to farmers in pesticides or the threat of the Zika virus, it is crazy not to be very concerned about the loss of bats through the proliferation of industrial wind. As the Scientific American article below reports, wind turbines have now surpassed white-nose syndrome as the leading cause of bat mortality. Union Neighbors United continues to await a decision in the US Court of Appeals in its case which alleges EverPower’s Habitat Conservation Plan is not sufficient to protect endangered or threatened bat populations in Champaign County.
With respect to development of wind in and along the shores of Lake Erie, we urge you to read the interview with Kim Kaufman of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. In 2013, the BSBO sought bird mortality data from the Iberdrola Blue Creek Wind Farm since it was located in a relatively remote, flat area where one would not expect significant bird mortality. As Kaufman relays in the interview: “The company refuses to turn over the data, citing trade secrets. In a closed-door meeting, the company did provide a list of birds killed over a two-year period, but refused to allow us to see the study methodology. The raw data was shocking. Even in this barren landscape, where we would have expected bird morality to be low, the turbines are still killing an alarming number of birds. Forty-one species were killed at the facility in 2012 and 2013. A disturbing percentage were migrating birds such as Golden-winged Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, and Golden-crowned Kinglet.”
The end of the comment period for the Midwest Habitat Conservation Plan is coming up on July 14th. “When finalized, the Multi-Species HCP will authorize incidental take that results from wind energy development activities within the covered lands throughout the 45-year term of the plan. Approximately 18,000 megawatts of existing wind facilities and 33,000 megawatts of new wind development are proposed to be covered under the plan. Measures to avoid and minimize incidental take include siting facilities away from important or high-use wildlife areas and adjusting turbine operations, in addition to several other avoidance and minimization measures.” The Indiana Bat and the Northern Long Eared Bat are two species of concern that are present in Ohio.
One of the strategies to prevent bat kills is for the wind operator to adjust the cut-in speed so that turbines will not start to spin until the wind is blowing at a speed where the bats are unlikely to be flying. The cut-in speeds proposed by Buckeye Wind and approved by USFWS fall between 5.0 m/s (11.2 mph) and 6.0 m/s (13.4 mph). However Research by scientists conducted at Fowler Ridge Wind Farm in Benton County, Indiana, shows (1) that a cut-in speed of at least 6.5 m/s (14.5 mph) is potentially the most effective cut-in speed for reducing take of Indiana bats and (2) that a 6.5 m/s (14.5 mph) cut-in speed is significantly more effective at reducing bat fatalities than a 5.0 m/s (11.2 mph) cut-in speed. Please file a comment demanding that all initial Habitat Conservation Plans must start at a 6.5 m/s (14.5 mph) cut-in speed during migratory periods. Based on monitoring results, wind operators can appeal for cut-in speeds to be lowered but they must earn that right. It does little good to start out with an inadequate cut-in speed resulting in high bat mortality and then increase the speed after the fact. These are protected species and they have a right to be accorded the maximum protection. Wind developers do not want to provide these protections because they may decrease revenue in areas (like Ohio) where wind resources are marginal to begin with. Don’t let them get away with it!
The draft habitat conservation plan and draft environmental impact statement are available for review at http://www.midwestwindenergyhcpeis.org. Public comments will be accepted through July 14, 2016. Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods:
Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter Docket No. FWS-R3-ES-2015-0033. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!” Please ensure that you have found the correct rulemaking before submitting your comment.
By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Regional Director, Attn: Rick Amidon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 5600 American Blvd. West, Suite 990, Bloomington, MN 55437–1458.
In your comment, please specify whether your comment addresses the draft multi-species HCP, the draft EIS, or both….
Industry plan to reduce deadly effects of blades may not be enough, some scientists say…
Much of this slaughter—the greatest threat to animals that are a vital link in our ecosystem—was supposed to end last year. In 2015, with great fanfare, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a trade group, announced voluntary guidelines to halt turbines at low wind speeds, when bats are most active, which would save lives. Conservationists praised the move.
But some scientists say this promise falls short. The industry plan claims to reduce bat deaths by 30 percent, but holding the blades in check just a little longer could reduce deaths by up to 90 percent or more, a decade of research indicates, and would do so with little additional energy loss. A research review published in January of this year found that wind turbines are, by far, the largest cause of mass bat mortality around the world….
Bats eat insects, saving farmers billions of dollars in pest control each year, but they generally do not get much attention. No one was even looking for bats under turbines until 2003, according to wildlife biologist Ed Arnett, currently a senior scientist at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. But on routine checks for dead hawks and eagles under West Virginia turbines that summer, surveyors found an estimated 2,000 dead bats. The discovery prompted creation of the Bat and Wind Energy Cooperative – a consortium of federal agencies, the wind energy association and Bat Conservation International. The consortium hired Arnett in 2004 to conduct the first major studies of why turbines kill bats and to find solutions.
In what is now considered a classic study at the Casselman Wind Project in Somerset County, Pa., in 2008 and 2009 Arnett “feathered” the blades in the evening hours of bats’ critical fall migration period. Feathering involves turning the blades parallel to the wind so the turbines do not rotate. Arnett feathered blades at wind speeds of five to 6.5 meters per second, slightly above the cut-in speed – the speed at which the turbines connect with the power grid—now typical in the industry, which is 3.5 to four meters per second. Delaying the cut-in speed reduced bat deaths by 44 to 93 percent, depending on the night studied and conditions. And delaying turbine starts until slightly higher wind speeds during this two-month migration period, Arnett estimated, would only reduce annual wind energy production, by less than 1 percent. A flurry of research by other scientists followed, showing feathered blades and higher cut-in speed saved more bat lives than other proposed solutions.
Paul Cryan, a bat biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a co-author of the January bat mortality review, praised the industry’s voluntary guidelines as an important first step. But like Cris Hein, he worries about the ongoing impact of turbines on bat populations. “Bats are long-lived and very slow reproducers,” he says. “Their populations rely on very high adult survival rates. That means their populations recover from big losses very slowly.” He questions whether bats can handle such damage year after year.
Defending the wind turbine policy, John Anderson, AWEA’s senior director of Permitting Policy and Environmental Affairs, says the guidelines were just a first move, not necessarily the last. “The initial step was to find that sweet spot between reducing our impact while maintaining energy production levels that make a project economic,” he says.
To date, however, the industry has resisted feathering at speeds higher than what the guidelines recommend….
Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), part of the bat consortium, is weighing in on the debate, and it appears to be following the conservation research. In a draft Habitat Conservation Plan covering eight Midwestern states the FWS proposes raising turbine cut-in speeds to five or 6.5 meters per second to protect three bat species listed (or being considered for listing) under the Endangered Species Act. One such species is the Indiana bat. To date, few other bat species are officially listed as endangered, including those most frequently killed by turbines. And the FWS can only require action by a wind facility if it has proof that the facility killed an endangered Indiana bat, a difficult task without close monitoring….