December 6, 2013

Maine Audubon: Wind farms, wildlife can be compatible

A biologist’s report says wind farms can be strategically placed to ensure the impact is small.

By Alanna Durkin
The Associated Press

AUGUSTA — The state can harness its significant wind resources for power and achieve its ambitious wind goals while also protecting its wildlife, according to a new report from one of its top wildlife conservation advocacy organizations.

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Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer The Mars Hill wind farm stretches the length of Mars Hill Mountain in Maine. A Maine Audubon report says such farms can be placed to minimize the impact on wildlife such as birds and bats.

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The Maine Audubon report released Wednesday shows there are more than 1 million acres of land in the state with enough wind to develop power. Wind turbines can be developed with little impact to some wildlife and habitat resources on 84 percent of that, the report found.

Energy companies say they seek to provide wind power in the most environmentally friendly and responsible way possible. But wind power has been criticized by opponents in particular for the turbines’ spinning blades, which can injure or kill birds and bats.

While any kind of development will have some impact on wildlife, the report’s findings show wind turbines can be strategically placed to ensure the impact is minimal, said the report’s author, Susan Gallo, a wildlife biologist.

“We can have those high standards, and we can have wind development in the appropriate places, because there is room on the landscape to have both,” she said Thursday.

Gallo analyzed maps of the state’s wind resources and wildlife resources – such as streams, lakes, wetlands and bird and fish habitats – to see where they overlap. But a statewide map of migratory bird corridors doesn’t exist, for example, so not all wildlife resources could be considered, she said.

Bob Stratton, a fisheries and wildlife program support supervisor with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the biggest concerns for the department surrounding wind turbines are with bats and birds.

Since bats and birds fly more often at low wind speeds, the department is working with the energy industry to determine if and how turbines can be turned off when winds are low to ensure they aren’t injured or killed by the spinning turbine blades, he said.

Gallo said the group isn’t advocating that all the available land be developed for wind farms. For example, the report doesn’t take into account other concerns regarding wind power, such as scenic issues, economic issues and local community issues.

But the report did find that there is enough land that doesn’t overlap with wildlife resources to meet the state’s goal of generating 3,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power up to 900,000 homes, by 2030. To meet the goals of Maine’s 2008 Wind Energy Act, about 600 more wind turbines, roughly three times as many as are currently in the state, need to be built, the report said.

Whether the state will meet that goal, however, remains to be seen.

“So much of this ... is driven by the federal government and subsidies and economics and sort of how business friendly are we going to be for wind in the state,” Gallo said. “But certainly if things are going the way they are now, I think 3,000 is a pretty optimistic goal.”

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