It’s just one wind turbine, and a small one by today’s standards, but it’s still raising a big stink.
The turbine in question is a 600-kilowatt machine being installed at the Camp Perry Air National Guard Station along Lake Erie in Ohio. The military, aiming to boost its use of renewable energy, says it will offset 72 percent of the electricity used by the base, but bird organizations say that because it is set to go in “the middle of a major bird migration corridor,” it will come at a huge costs. And now the birders – the national American Bird Conservancy, and the local Black Swamp Bird Observatory – are threatening to sue.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded (the turbine) is likely to kill threatened and endangered bird species such as the Piping Plover and Kirtland’s Warbler, as well as other federally protected birds,” the ABC’s Michael Hutchins said in a release on Wednesday. “We are asking the developer to immediately halt construction and take the steps mandated by federal law to prevent the illegal killing of protected species.”
The project, with funding from Congress in hand, was originally supposed to consist of three lakeside turbines at the base, which sits beside state and federal wildlife refuges. But under pressure, the Air National Guard trimmed the project to the single turbine, with a tower that stands 131 feet tall and rotor blades 135 feet in diameter. They also moved it back a bit from the shore, to a parcel “where there is no significant or desirable wildlife habitat,” camp officials said in an August 2013 Finding of No Significant Impact [PDF].
“No significant impact” is far from what biologists see from the turbine. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, for instance, concluded: “Because of the density and diversity of migratory birds within the region, and the behavior of these birds during migration, we believe that siting a wind turbine at the proposed location presents a high level of risk to migratory birds.” [PDF]
The ABC, for its part, says it supports wind power as a legitimate response to climate change – but with careful siting. The group says that “the Lake Erie shoreline in Ohio is among the worst possible locations for a wind power project” because of the way the configuration of water and land “serves to ‘funnel’ large numbers of protected migratory birds through a small area.”
So the question here seems to be not whether to build wind turbines, but where. The Obama administration is purportedly trying to steer developers toward less impactful projects, but the Fish & Wildlife Service made this point in its sharp critique of the Camp Perry project: “(W)e believe that Federal agencies should work closely with us in siting turbines to minimize the potential effect on wildlife resources, setting a good example for the public to follow.”