Feds' wind power rules are for the birds

The U.S. government is drafting guidelines to protect bats and birds from being killed by striking wind turbines.
Written by David Worthington, Contributor

These bats were killed by a wind turbine. Photo credit: Marty Piorkowski, Oklahoma State University.

The U.S. Department of the Interior today released draft voluntary guidelines to prevent bats and birds from fatally colliding with windmills.

Wind power is a burgeoning part of the clean energy mix in the United States, and the government policy is promoting even broader development. It is also proving to be a hazard for our feathery and fury friends.

There are widespread reports of bird and bat fatalities. The magnitude of the problem relative to the ecological impact of fossil fuels is open for debate, but the phenomenon happens so frequently that it has become subject to scientific inquiry.

My colleague Melissa Mahony recently wrote about a university study that determined that the color of a wind turbine could affect bat strikes (the bugs that bats hunt prefer lighter colors).

The issue has also come to the attention of the National Audubon Society, which favors the development of energy sources that reduce the threat of global warming with the caveat that wind turbine facilities are not built in environmentally sensitive areas.

That is effectively what the Department of the Interior is recommending. It suggests that all stakeholders follow its guidance to make the best possible decision for site selection on public lands. The guidelines incorporate “lessons learned” from last year’s fast-tracked energy projects.

More stringent rules are being drafted for raptors that are protected by federal law including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“Development of wind power and other renewable energy sources is a key part of our nation’s energy strategy for the future, and we are committed to facilitating that development,” said Fish and Wildlife Service acting director Rowan Gould.

“This guidance will help our employees work with the wind energy industry to minimize impacts to the environment, and I look forward to receiving comments from the public on these draft documents so the final guidance represents the best path forward.”

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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