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MidAmerican plan aims to reduce number of eagles, bats killed by wind turbines

Permit would allow for up to 10 eagle deaths a year

A wind turbines, part of MidAmerican Energy’s Laurel Project, turn in the wind in a field along Lafayette Avenue near Laurel on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A wind turbines, part of MidAmerican Energy’s Laurel Project, turn in the wind in a field along Lafayette Avenue near Laurel on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

As Iowa’s crop of wind turbines grows every year, officials with the state’s biggest utility are taking extra steps to make sure those turbines, namely their whirling blades, don’t spell danger for Iowa’s bald eagle and bat populations.

MidAmerican Energy on Thursday filed a plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aimed at minimizing wind turbine impacts on bald eagles and four bat species.

The plan is part of MidAmerican’s request for a 30-year U.S. permit to allow for an average of 10 turbine-related incidental bald eagle deaths per year across the company’s Iowa footprint, less than half a percent of the eagle population. A permit for four bat species also is being sought.

The Endangered Species Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act permits require applicants to meet a number of criteria, including monitoring, avoiding and minimizing animal impacts and mitigation for unavoidable impacts, said Kraig McPeek, supervisor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Illinois and Iowa field office.

If approved, MidAmerican Energy’s permit would be the first of its kind in the state, McPeek said.

Without a permit, the death of an endangered bat or protected eagle by means of wind turbine is a violation of federal law and can result in fines and or prosecution.

McPeek said there have been eagle fatalities in the Midwest region, but they are considered active investigations and further information was not available.

With a permit, MidAmerican Energy would be allowed a small number of protected animal deaths, but also must make considerable efforts to protecting those species and minimizing the impact of wind turbines on them.

“We understand that even though wind energy is clean and renewable, it impacts wildlife,” Jenny McIvor, vice president, environmental programs for MidAmerican Energy, said in a Thursday news release. “That’s why we’ve worked so hard and spent $15 million to study wildlife impacts at our wind facilities and tailor a conservation plan that specifically addresses those impacts.”

MidAmerican Energy’s plan to protect four bat species, including two that are federally protected, would alter nighttime wind turbine operations during some months, implementing a slight reduction in turbine “cut-in” speed — or the wind speed at which a turbine begins to spin and produce energy. Doing so will minimize bat fatalities, while slightly decreasing energy generation, the release states.

The plan also includes operational changes at four wind farms where increased bat activity has been identified.

“Any form of energy generation has some impact on the environment and wildlife. We want to minimize it as much as possible,” MidAmerican Energy Spokesman Geoff Greenwood said Thursday.

In addition, the plan proposes training wind turbine technicians on what to do when finding wildlife during turbine visits and educating landowners about removing animal remains that may attract eagles near turbines.

MidAmerican also proposed creating a $4.4 million bat conservation fund and $1.6 million eagle conservation fund to support statewide efforts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to take action on the proposal by next spring, following a public comment period. The public can provide feedback on the draft plan until Oct. 1 at fws.gov/midwest/rockisland/te/MidAmericanHCP.html.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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