(Host) New research says that four wind turbines planned for a mountain in the Northeast Kingdom pose a potential risk to migrating birds. The study was done for the state Agency of Natural Resources. Officials there say they want to see more research before the project is built.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) In March, the Public Service Board will hold hearings on a plan by a Montpelier energy company to build four, 300-foot wind turbines on East Mountain in Essex County.
One issue is the project’s impact on wildlife, including migrating birds. The developer’s expert said this remote area of the Northeast Kingdom isn’t used as a major migration corridor. And the developer argues that the birds tend to fly high above the ridgelines and thus would avoid the spinning blades of the turbines.
But a far different conclusion was reached by the state’s scientific expert in the case. Using radar, the researcher counted more than half a million birds flying over the mountain last October. More than half – 67 percent – flew at altitudes at or below 400 feet. That means they could collide with the turbines.
(John Austin) “I didn’t expect to find this many birds flying over this particular mountain.”
(Dillon) John Austin is a state wildlife biologist. He says more research is needed, especially during the spring migration.
(Austin) “It basically gives us cause for concern. What our goal is, is to come up with a way of trying to take information like this and be able to use it in such a way as to help with the design, siting and operation of wind energy facilities.”
(Dillon) David Rappaport is vice president of East Haven Wind Farm. He questions the findings and says it would be wrong to conclude from the state’s radar study that the birds would fly into turbines. He says research on wind farms from other areas of the country show that they don’t have much impact on bird migration. According to Rappaport, birds will fly around the spinning blades of a wind generator.
(Rappaport) “To suppose that birds aren’t capable of taking avoidance behavior is really contrary to what the results seem to be from around the country where you actually have wind farms in operation.”
(Dillon) Warren Coleman, the state’s lawyer in the case, says the radar study shows that birds use the area and that the turbines could be a problem.
(Coleman) “What a radar study can’t necessarily tell you is ultimately how birds will behave if they’re confronted with a wind turbine project. So there’s only so far you can go with looking at this information. What it does tell us though is there is a risk, perhaps a higher risk contemplated or thought existed on some of the ridgetop areas up in the Northeast Kingdom prior to doing these studies.”
(Dillon) East Haven Wind Farm had originally wanted to build 50 turbines in the area, including many in the former Champion Paper company land now protected by conservation easements. The company says that’s no longer the plan. The state says the fact that the project is limited to four turbines should minimize the impact on birds and wildlife.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.