In growing trend, Wyoming wind project seeks permit to kill eagles

2013-12-04T19:00:00Z 2013-12-05T11:16:11Z In growing trend, Wyoming wind project seeks permit to kill eaglesBy BENJAMIN STORROW Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

The Power Company of Wyoming plans to apply next month for a federal permit that will allow the firm to kill a limited number of eagles every year at its planned Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind farm in Carbon County.

The decision of the Denver-based developer to seek what is known as an “eagle-take permit” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reflects what may be the beginning of a trend, industry observers said.

Fish and Wildlife has never granted a take permit to a wind developer, but is currently considering several applications, said Dave Carlson, National Environmental Protection Act coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Chokecherry-Sierra Madre would join that list of applicants, he said.

“We should be seeing more of them in the future,” Carlson said. “This would apply to existing projects that are in operation and new projects.”

Fish and Wildlife will determine how many eagles can be killed under the permit after receiving an application for the project.

The expected increase in eagle-take applications comes months after the service clarified the rules surrounding eagle deaths at wind facilities. The new guidelines allow wind developers to kill a limited number of eagles each year, provided they make efforts to site turbines in locations that minimize fatalities and institute mitigation measures once their facilities become operational.

It also follows on the heels of a settlement announced by the U.S. Department of Justice in November in which a North Carolina developer agreed to pay $1 million in fines and restitution for avian deaths at its wind farm near Casper.

Garry Miller, Power Company of Wyoming vice president of environmental affairs, said the company’s application for a take permit and the Justice Department settlement were coincidence. The firm has been in talks with Fish and Wildlife since 2010 over how to best minimize the number of eagle deaths at Chokecherry-Sierra Madre. The proposed 1,000-turbine development would become one of the largest on-land wind facilities in the United States if built.

The project has been plagued by concerns about its impact on birds. The Bureau of Land Management approved the wind farm in 2012, calling its impact on migratory birds and bald eagles low. But BLM also noted that the threat it presented to golden eagles was significant, and projected the development would kill 46 to 64 eagles annually. A plan to reduce golden eagle fatalities could reduce the impact, the bureau said.

That is what the Power Company of Wyoming is trying to do, Miller said. He noted the company has proposed putting 26,000 acres along the North Platte River between Fort Steele and Sinclair in a conservation easement where wind development would be prohibited. That area is crucial golden eagle habitat and boasts considerable wind resources, Miller said. The company has also proposed a half-mile buffer around eagle nests.

Still, Miller acknowledged avian fatalities are a part of wind development.

“Unfortunately it does happen,” he said. “What we’re doing is being proactive and trying to avoid and minimize the potential risk to eagles.”

The number of wind developers seeking take permits will likely increase in the coming years, as companies look to pursue projects in areas boasting both high winds and key bird habitat, said Darin Schroeder, vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, a national advocacy group.

His organization does not oppose wind development, but believes more stringent sitting laws are needed to ensure projects are not built in environmentally crucial areas, Schroeder said.

Chokecherry-Sierra Madre is especially concerning, he said, arguing that internal concerns from BLM and Fish and Wildlife staff about bird fatalities have been ignored for political reasons. The project is one of 33 renewable energy developments authorized on public land by the Obama administration, as part of its initiative to produce 10,000 megawatts of green electricity.

The project received BLM authorization despite the finding it posed a threat to golden eagles, Schroeder said.

“I think it’s safe to say we are very troubled this project continues to go forward,” he said.

Fish and Wildlife will consider Power Company of Wyoming’s take application as a part of the agency’s current environmental evaluation of the wind farm. Two public meetings regarding the project are scheduled for next week. Fish and Wildlife is expected issue a final decision on the project in early 2015.

The take permit applies to the project’s first phase, which calls for building 500 turbines in the western part of the project area. The company, a subsidiary of Anschutz Corp., will seek a second take permit if it pursues a planned second phase. In all, the project is expected to produced 2,000-3,000 megawatts of electricity.

Reach energy reporter Benjamin Storrow at 307-266-0535 or benjamin.storrow@trib.com.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. wiegand
    Report Abuse
    wiegand - December 15, 2013 10:34 am
    Wind Industry Facts:
    The wind industry is hiding massive turbine related bird and bat genocide.

    The wind industry gives out false energy projections and will never be a major source of
    energy for the grid.

    There is nothing "green" about this industry because it devours greenbelts, landscapes and is pushing dozens of species towards extinction.

    This is an industry in the business of fleecing tax dollars and using politicians to get them.

    The outrage towards this industry has been steadily building across the world as industry lies and Gestapo ways have become revealed.

    People are beginning to realize that these turbines will have not be saving this planet from climate change because wind turbine generated energy does not even cover the world's annual increase in energy consumption and increases from other sources. State mandates for renewable energy are all absurd because this lousy source of energy will never catch up to 20, 25, or even 33%. So despite the propaganda and hype of being the fastest growing energy segment, these turbines are losing ground and enough can not be installed. It is time that our leaders stopped lying to the public about all this and stopped wasting precious taxpayer dollars on this highly destructive non-solution.

    At this time, no other energy source is as destructive and every other energy source is a better choice better than wind energy. These turbines have only been around about 3 decades and in this short amount of time no other energy source is even close to driving species to extinction as quickly as these wind turbines.
  2. perfo
    Report Abuse
    perfo - December 06, 2013 6:09 pm
    I am not anti-wind. I am anti "go ahead and kill eagles". License to kill is the wrong answer. For one thing that'll just make the general public more hostile to your operations. I am in 100% agreement that siting is the key. Siting wind farms in Wyoming and running an extension cord to California is not responsible siting.
  3. comose
    Report Abuse
    comose - December 06, 2013 3:59 pm

    Herman Werner, a Wyoming rancher, 1972, was prosecuted by the Feds for killing eagles that preyed on lambs. This issue made front page on the Casper Star Tribune for months.

    It was illegal then. It is illegal now. There is no reason on earth to kill eagles. The Feds dont get a free pass now.
  4. themodestproposal
    Report Abuse
    themodestproposal - December 06, 2013 9:33 am
    Lots of anti-wind folks like to represent that wind farms kill lots of birds. It's important to remember the alternative to wind: Coal/Gas plants kill over 500 times the number of birds as do windfarms. Even nuclear power plants kill 10 times the number of birds as windfarms do. And of course, buildings, pesticides, and feral cats each kill many thousands of times more birds than do windfarms. The fact is that responsibly sited windfarms are much better for birds than are buildings, feral cats, pesticides, coal/gas power plants, communications towers, and even nuclear power plants, a fact that anti-wind activists should remember, assuming they use cell phones, live in buildings, eat food, or use electricity in the U.S. http://climatecrocks.com/2013/05/20/why-coal-and-nuclear-plants-kill-far-more-birds-than-wind-power/
  5. Todd
    Report Abuse
    Todd - December 06, 2013 5:43 am
    The dilemma is, enviros demand so called "clean energy", and they do not understand that too has a cost. There is no free lunch and no problem free energy source. All of the lawsuits and all of the demands do not change facts. The fact is birds fly into those big blades. If enviros demand wind energy, they should be willing to support research on mitigating the problem.
  6. perfo
    Report Abuse
    perfo - December 05, 2013 8:23 pm
    "Fish and Wildlife has never granted a take permit to a wind developer". How many have they granted to other industries? This is what we're down too? It's too hard to do it right so we'll just issue a permit to do it wrong? I guess all those years I resisted using my "special resident elk tag" when I didn't draw my preferred tag were wasted. Might as well use my new elk-take permit in the future as it will add to my bottom line. (free food) Just like this eagle-take permit adds to the bottom line of the wind companies. I'm all for renewable energy but this is ridiculous. Eagles will be killed during wind energy generation but no dang permission to do it! If that's what it comes down to I'd just as soon break wind.
  7. wiegand
    Report Abuse
    wiegand - December 05, 2013 12:01 pm
    In Wyoming Duke Energy was recently prosecuted for killing eagles and other protected species at their wind energy sites. A few years back before getting project approval, Duke Energy was required to submit Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for their Top of the Hill and Campbell Hill wind projects.

    I have read over the impact statements used in the approval process for these two eagle killing wind projects. The impact statements for these projects falsely claimed or estimated that eagle mortality from the turbines would be low. These impact statements were also backed up
    with other severely flawed wind industry studies that hid turbine mortality.

    Being an expert on the golden eagle and wind turbine mortality impacts I can say that there was never any justification to ever expect that eagle mortality would be low. After all these two wind energy projects were going to be placed in excellent golden eagle habitat. The project sites had
    occupied eagle nesting territories, many nests, loads of available prey species, and golden eagles were the most commonly seen raptor species. Then after knowing all this, these impact statements should have noted that the turbines would likely kill off the local eagles and for the life of this project this habitat would always be an attraction to other eagles, that would in turn also be killed.

    The terrible history between golden eagles and wind turbines has been known for decades. In the 1990's tracking studies proved that wind turbines were the number one killer of eagles in eagle habitat. Windows, buildings, cats, towers and the "supposedly" unique location of Altamont Pass were not killing them. It was simply a matter of deadly wind turbines having been placed in eagle habitat.

    They way this industry operates a take permit limited number of eagles every year could end up being several hundred. There is only one way this story ends if the planned Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind farm is built. tt is all bad news for the golden eagle and all good new for the turbine peddlers.

  8. 99Savage
    Report Abuse
    99Savage - December 05, 2013 8:38 am
    Is it true? The wind farm people are finally admitting that these bird blenders kill eagles? Wow, who knew. Now they want a permit to kill and make it all legal with no more fines! No, no, NO.

    I recall years ago when Wyoming ranchers were involved in killing eagles from aircraft that caused a huge national scandal and gave Wyoming a big black eye. These wind farms need to be exposed nationally to just how bad their avian deaths are.
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