Oregon wind farm first to ask for permission to harm birds
By Lee van der Voo
Sustainable Business Oregon contributing writer
Pacific Wind has filed a first-ever "take permit" as a legal refuge if its wind turbines kill any golden eagles.
West Butte Wind Power has become the first wind farm in the country to formally ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if it can harm golden eagles.
It’s a development that follows a three-year-old effort by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rein in a spike in eagle mortality rates amid collisions with wind turbines, and has conservation groups cautiously optimistic about the wind industry’s future on American lands.
The central Oregon wind farm, owned by California-based Pacific Wind Power, is located 32 miles east of Bend on a 5,000-foot plateau. The 104-megawatt operation set to develop there would include 52 wind turbines on the land off Highway 20. If approved for the “take” permit, West Butte will become the first American wind farm approved under new federal rules intended to reconcile bird protections with a national push for clean energy development.
The rules essentially extend the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act to wind farms. They’ve been phased in since 2009 following Fish and Wildlife’s own estimation that 440,000 birds were killed by wind turbines that year.
The rules now tie permit approval for wind farms with conservation measures, allowing wind developers to apply for take permits, or permits allowing wind farms to kill, harass or disturb bald and golden eagles, their nests or their eggs, in exchange for conservation measures that benefit eagles.
Pacific Wind Power’s application asks to take up to three golden eagles over five years while the company complies with an aviation and bat conservation plan. The plan shoots for a zero net loss of breeding populations of golden eagles, which use the area surrounding the proposed wind farm. It would be reviewed every five years.
Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.
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