Bird advocates seek tougher wind turbine rules

A national bird conservation organization today formally petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement regulations to protect birds from collisions with wind turbines.

The American Bird Conservancy’s petition for rulemaking urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a mandatory permitting system for the operation of wind energy projects and mitigation of their impacts on migratory birds.

“Voluntary guidelines in place since 2003 have been ineffective,” Kelly Fuller, the organization’s wind campaign coordinator, said during a telephone news conference.

The government estimates that more than 400,000 birds are killed each year by collisions with wind turbines. Without the requested regulations, the ongoing expansion of wind power will likely push the death toll to 1 million birds per year by 2020, Fuller said.

Though Iowa is the second leading producer of wind energy among the 50 states, associated bird deaths are not considered to be as serious a problem here as in some other states.

Most of Iowa’s more than 2,600 large utility-scale wind turbines are sited in the middle of cropfields, consistent with the Bird Conservancy’s admonition to locate them in “already altered habitats such as farmland.”

MidAmerican Energy, the state’s leading producer of wind power, said it has had very little experience with killed or injured birds at its 1091 wind turbines in the following 15 Iowa counties: Buena Vista, Sac, Pocahontas, Calhoun, Crawford, Carroll, Pottawattamie, Adair, Adams, Cass, Floyd, Wright, Hamilton, Marshall and Polk.

Its turbines “are primarily installed in crop areas where there is annual tilling, planting and harvesting activities and as such these areas don’t support large migrations of birds or nesting,” said Tina Potthoff, the company’s media relations manager.

Potthoff said MidAmerican completes environmental and avian studies as part of its site selection process. It also consults with the Department of Natural Resources to select sites that pose a low risk to birds, she said.

Most of the 120 turbines Alliant Energy operates in Franklin and Hardin counties “are in the middle of cornfields,” company spokesman Ryan Stensland said.

“I can’t say we’ve never had a bird run into one of them, but we have noticed no recurring patterns,” he said.

“The whole idea of wind turbines, with no emissions, is to benefit the environment. We don’t want to benefit one part of it at the expense of another,” Stensland said.

Most of the negative publicity associated with wind turbine bird fatalities has emanated from California, where raptors – especially golden eagles -- pursuing prey in mountain valleys have often collided with wind turbines, said Bill Haman of the Iowa Energy Center in Ames.“It is not an issue I hear Iowa wind energy developers discussing as a problem,” Haman said.

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