JACKSON – The average wind turbine kills three to four birds a year. Operators can face penalties if their turbines kill bald and golden eagles, endangered species and some migratory birds.
That’s according to Dale Strickland, president of Cheyenne-based environmental consulting company Western EcoSystems Technology, which provided technical research for a set of guidelines published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012. If operators follow the guidelines, they can get out of penalties for bird deaths, because the government will presume they worked on good faith and didn’t intend to kill them, he said.
Strictland presented the guidelines Monday at the Snow King Hotel during a meeting for the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, a quasi-governmental state agency that’s tasked to diversify and expand Wyoming’s economy through electric transmission infrastructure.
“For the most part, the guidelines, with the exception of a few components, codified what the companies had already been doing,” he said. “They had built it into their finance structure already. But some of the smaller operators may not be able to afford the guidelines.”
The guidelines outline studies that should be conducted before and after wind farm construction, Strickland said.
“The service expects you to document the studies that are conducted,” he said. “The service wants to see some measures that reduce [birth deaths.]”
In addition to birds protected by the Endangered Species Act, operators must be concerned about species in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and species of concern, which include the Greater Sage Grouse, prairie chicken and some bat species, Strickland said.
The guidelines are for large-scale wind projects that provide energy to the electrical grid. Strickland said small-scale wind turbines are exempt.
The guidelines provided suggestions for wind farms that were under construction when the rules were published or existing turbines, Strickland said.
To date, no data has been published about how many birds have been saved as a result of the guidelines, Strickland said.