May 14, 2013

Wind farms get pass on eagle deaths

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 4)

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Solomon, a 14-year-old golden eagle, perches on a branch at the Sulphur Creek Nature Center on Thursday, May 9, 2013, in Hayward, Calif. According to keepers, a wind turbine near the Altamont Pass severed a portion of Solomon's left wing in 2000 leaving him unable to fly or survive in the wild. It's the not-so-green secret of the nation's wind-energy boom: Spinning turbines are killing thousands of federally protected birds, including eagles, each year.

AP

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A golden eagle flies near a wind turbine on a wind farm owned by PacifiCorp near Glenrock, Wyo., Monday, May 6, 2013. At least 20 golden eagles have been found dead at the companies wind farms in Wyoming, according to data obtained by The Associated Press. It's the not-so-green secret of the nation's wind-energy boom: Spinning turbines are killing thousands of federally protected birds, including eagles, each year. (AP Photo/Matt Young)

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In its defense, the wind-energy industry points out that more eagles are killed each year by cars, electrocutions and poisoning than by turbines.

Ashe noted that the government doesn't require other industrial facilities to disclose the numbers of birds they kill.

Documents and emails obtained by the AP offer glimpses of the problem: 14 deaths at seven facilities in California, five each in New Mexico and Oregon, one in Washington state and another in Nevada, where an eagle was found with a hole in its neck, exposing the bone.

Unlike the estimates, these are hard numbers, proof of deaths, the beginnings of a mosaic revealing the problem.

One of the deadliest places in the country for golden eagles is Wyoming, where federal officials said wind farms have killed more than 50 golden eagles since 2009, predominantly in the southeastern part of the state. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the figures.

At a different facility, Duke Energy's Top of the World wind farm, a 17,000-acre site with 110 turbines located about 35 miles east of Casper, 10 eagles have been killed in the first two years of operation. It is the deadliest of Duke's 15 wind power plants for eagles.

The company's environmental director for renewable energy, Tim Hayes, said Duke is doing all it can, not only because it wants to fix the problem but because it could reduce the company's liability. Two of the company's wind farms in Wyoming — Top of the World and Campbell Hill — are under investigation by the federal government for the deaths of golden eagles and other birds, according to a report the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week. The report was filed after the AP visited a Duke facility in Wyoming and asked senior executives about the deaths.

Duke encourages workers to drive slower so as not to scare eagles from their roosts. They remove dead animals that eagles eat. And they've removed rock piles where the bird's prey lives. They also keep internal data on every dead bird in order to determine whether these efforts are working. The company is also testing radar technology to detect eagles and is considering blaring loud noises to prevent the birds from flying into danger.

The only other option is shutting off the turbines when eagles approach. And even that method hasn't been scientifically proven to work.

At Top of the World, Duke shut down 13 turbines for a week in March, often the deadliest time for eagles. The experiment, the company says, paid off. Not a single eagle was killed that month.

Hayes says the company has repeatedly sought a permit from the federal government to kill eagles legally, but was told it was killing too many to qualify.

When an eagle is killed, Duke employees are also prohibited by law from removing the carcass.

Each death is a tiny crime scene. So workers walk out underneath the spinning rotors and cover the dead bird with a tarp. It lies there, protected from scavengers but decaying underneath its shroud, until someone from the government comes to get it.

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Windmills lining the Altamont Pass generate electricity on Sunday, May 12, 2013, near Livermore, Calif. It's the not-so-green secret of the nation's wind-energy boom: Spinning turbines are killing thousands of federally protected birds, including eagles, each year. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

  


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