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Safety of birds is concern with turbines

Most county wind development rules are more stringent than state requirements.

A national bird conservation group's struggle to stop wind turbines from killing too many migrating birds, from golden eagles to warblers, got a boost Friday, when Xcel Energy announced it abandoned a North Dakota wind farm because environmental mitigation costs were too high.

American Bird Conservancy has been taking a view of the issue wider than one wind farm. It wants the U.S. Department of the Interior to put more controls over all wind farms nationally, including possibly requiring special radar that would shut down turbines when big flocks of birds fly toward them.

"All songbirds are at risk from wind," said Mike Parr, conservancy vice president.

When birds move north and south en masse in spring and fall, often at night, they can hit hit blades or towers, he said. About 400,000 birds are killed annually, but with the increases in wind farms, he expects that to rise to a million or more in 2030.

Southeastern Minnesota has hundreds of wind turbines and many more proposed; some have objected to wind projects in Goodhue County because they would be near the Mississippi River valley migratory flyway.


Xcel said it canceled the 150-megawatt Merricourt Wind Project in North Dakota because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was worried it would kill whooping cranes and piping plovers, which are threatened species.

"We think wind is essentially a good idea," Parr said.

Like dams that generate power, turbines also have environmental drawbacks, he said. Dams stopped fish migration and turbines can kill birds.

That million is but a tiny part of the 10 billion birds of all sizes that come north in spring and 20 billion that head south in fall, he said.

"A million is a lot of birds no matter how you look at it," he said.

The group has proposed moving turbines back from the edge of ridges where raptors ride thermals up the side and can be killed, and possibly a new radar system that would automatically shut down turbines when it detects masses of migrating birds and, Parr said. That would probably only happen a few nights per year, he said.

When the Department of the Interior came out with guidelines in February, the conservancy said they didn't go far enough because they are voluntary.

The American Wind Energy Association, however, praised the guidelines.


"(They) will hold our industry to higher standards than any other industry when it comes to actions to avoid and minimize wildlife impacts from development," said John Anderson, association policy director.

The association doesn't favor radar because machines can't tell the difference between swarms of insects and flocks of birds.

"There has not been an instance of large flocks of birds being impacted by any wind farm, with or without the use of this technology," Anderson said.


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