Wind power and birds: study of studies says low risk

The potential impact of wind farms on wildlife, particularly birds, is a recurring theme at the AWEA WindPower conference. The legacy of projects at Altamont Pass in California, which have been blamed for thousands of bird deaths since being installed in the 1970s, looms large over the industry although there has not been an “Altamont II.”
For the most part it hasn’t been an issue in Texas because West Texas isn’t a big migratory route for birds. Two projects along the Texas coast south of Corpus Christi have some worried, however, because they’re along just such a route. We touched on them briefly in a story on Sunday.
At a panel at the AWEA conference here Tuesday Christian Newman, president of consulting firm Pandion Systems of Florida, discussed a study that essentially looked at all previous studies on the impact of any sort of power project on wildlife.
The conclusion: nuclear and wind power have some of the lowest wildlife impacts from the cradle to grave of a project, including extraction of resources, construction, operation, power transmission and decommissioning.
Sidney Gauthreaux, a pioneer in so-called radar ornithology, along with Kevin Rackstraw of Clipper Windpower, outlined ways of getting a better grip on the possible impacts of a project because current pre-construction survey techniques aren’t all that reliable. By studying years of radar weather data at four sites across the U.S. (three in New York, one in Amarillo) they determined there are fewer than two days per year on average where bird migration and weather patterns that would bring the birds to turbine level would coincide.
John Calaway, chief development officer for Babcock & Brown, which is doing one of the two Texas coastal projects, said the company is planning to use radar to anticipate the intersection of bird migrations and bad weather conditionsto shut down the turbines during periods of high risk.
“The company realizes the importance of this and … will shut in our production whenever visibility is lower than ½ mile during peak migratory times,” Calaway said. “But the odds of being a take [meaning birds killed] is relatively low and not probable.”
Despite the assurance a lawsuit has been filed against the projects, including one by Iberdrola, by some environmental groups and the neighboring King Ranch who are not happy with the bird data and concerns about the impact on ground water flow. (Houston-based King Ranch officials have said in the past they’re not fans of wind in general, not just the project next door, BTW)
Attorneys for the developers argued before a judge in Austin on Tuesday about why the lawsuit should be dismissed. According to a spokeswoman for the plaintiffs the judge is expected to make a decision in the coming days.

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