BOISE, Idaho — Wind Energy accounts for almost 3 percent of the electrical power in the U.S. today. Wind energy companies hope to provide even more in the coming years. But while wind turbines produce no carbon emissions, they are also being blamed for killing birds.
The Northwest is a wind energy giant, with more than five thousand turbines in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
But these green-energy producers have a lethal co-existence with birds. The American Bird Conservancy this week filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking for regulations.
Kelly Fuller is the wind campaign coordinator for the conservancy. She says the petition provides detailed plans for how wind power can be managed both to protect birds and to offer regulatory certainty to the wind industry. Fuller says wind energy companies want stability so they can plan ahead and don’t come across any unexpected problems or costs.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working on voluntary guidelines for the industry to follow to minimize bird deaths. That includes certain species that are threatened but not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, or Endangered Species Act. The agency has the draft version done, now it needs final approval to become official. But the agency already uses the draft guideline as a blueprint for it’s current policy.
The American Bird Conservancy has been critical of the guidelines during the two year development process because they are not mandatory. Fuller says wind companies can decide whether or not they want to follow them. That why they have decided this week to take more aggressive action and file a petition with the agency.
Fuller’s group wants the government to require less lethal turbine blades that are smaller and slower spinning. It also wants restrictions on where turbines go with penalties for companies that don’t comply.
But many companies nationwide already have company policies in place that take birds and bats into consideration. Some have even taken it onto themselves to monitor and replace problematic turbines.
The American Wind Energy Association spokeswoman Ellen Carey says the wind power industry has modest impacts on birds compared to other forms of energy generation. Carey wants to make sure people look the mortality rates in context with vastly more significant sources of mortality such as buildings, communication towers, or vehicle collisions.
In fact, Carey says the wind energy business is far less harmful to birds than the fossil fuels that it displaces.
Turbines kill 150,000 birds a year, according to both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Wind Energy Association. The American Bird Conservancy says the kill rate for wind turbines is three times that high.
Shruti Suresh is a lawyer who helped write the petition asking the federal government to regulate wind turbines to prevent them from killing birds. Some of the birds lost to the wind industry are supposed to be protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Suresh says the regulations she supports would not just help protect endangered and migratory birds. They would also provide the industry with more certainty about what they can and can’t do under the rules — and what the penalties would be for breaking them.
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