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NYSOA Resolution on Wind Power Development

Adopted by the Council of Delegates
at the Annual Meeting in Batavia, New York on October 6, 2007

The New York State Ornithological Assoc., Inc. (NYSOA) supports development of renewable resources to provide energy in NY State, and beyond.  Continued dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power carries with it serious environmental consequences including air and water pollution, toxic waste, habitat degradation and loss, and many threats associated with global warming.  These negative consequences impact birds in NY and elsewhere. Wind energy facilities that are sited appropriately provide an alternative that is less harmful than fossil fuel and nuclear generation to birds, humans and our environment.

However, all methods of energy production, even those using renewable resources, do have some environmental impacts.  The greatest concern to NYSOA for wind power is inappropriate siting and the consequent impact from wind turbine blades and towers on wildlife and the potential degradation or fragmentation of habitats by access roads and the towers themselves.

NYSOA recognizes that the cumulative impact of more than one wind power facility in one area poses an environmental threat that may far exceed the impact of an individual facility and that the cumulative impact of a series of wind power facilities along a topographic feature that is used as a migratory route may be severe. NYSOA sees a great need for predictive models of wildlife mortality and development of objective criteria that apply predictions from such models to determine if a site is suitable or not. NYSOA recommends that wildlife monitoring data be subject to external review by scientists unassociated with the wind industry, and that the data be placed in the public domain before a siting review is initiated so citizen participation in the review process is reasonably possible.

To minimize damage to wildlife and address these broad concerns, NYSOA recommends the following.

  • A full, draft assessment of the impact on wildlife, including especially birds and bats must be prepared and submitted by the proposer for review by the appropriate agencies.
  • The full, draft assessment must provide an analysis of the cumulative environmental impact due to existing, proposed and reasonably foreseeable energy-related proposals for an area or migratory pathway.
  • The review agency must be given the authority to reject an individual proposal if the cumulative effects of several facilities in an ecologically connected area are viewed as too severe.
  • The assessment should determine the presence or absence of state or federally listed threatened or endangered species or species of special conservation concern that reside at or near the site for an appreciable portion of the year and determine how those species would be affected by the proposed project.
  • The assessment must include thorough surveys of nesting birds, with particular emphasis on at risk species, and those species utilizing flight displays and patterns that may increase the likelihood of collisions. Surveys of wintering birds must be conducted to assess use of the area by raptors, which may hunt in open areas near wind turbines.
  • Ridges and shorelines, which are closely followed by some species during migration, are frequently also considered for wind power development.  The risks to birds from wind projects at these locations are so high that they should be avoided completely unless it is demonstrated conclusively that minimal concentration of birds exists at proposed sites.  In those locations where there is good reason to suspect there may be a seasonal concentrations of birds, no less than three years of full-time surveys through spring and fall migrations, with appropriate peer review, should be considered adequate to document the absence or low frequency of such concentrations.  These locations include: areas within 2 miles of the shorelines of Lakes Erie, Ontario, Champlain, and Chautauqua; barrier beaches and other shoreline areas on Long Island; offshore areas within 2 miles of land in Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean; known migratory routes along ridges and valleys including the lower Hudson River Valley, the Susquehanna River Valley, the St. Lawrence River Valley, the Finger Lakes, Chautauqua Lake, and the Shawangunk Ridge.  Other areas may also be identified as similarly crucial to bird movement, and should likewise be avoided.
  • The agency must have the authority to reject the assessment on the basis of insufficient or inadequate data.
  • The draft, full assessment should be provided to the public in such a time and manner that the public has sufficient time to submit an external review to the appropriate agency or agencies prior to the approval by the agency.
  • At a minimum, any project's approval should be contingent on the developer and operator following the most current version of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recommendations for reducing risk and avoiding bird collisions with towers.
  • The agency must certify that the data is sufficient and collected in an appropriate manner.
  • Post-construction studies of aerial movement of wildlife and mortality rates must be continued and the results readily accessible in the public domain. Approved wind power facilities must provide financial support sufficient to fund several efforts to develop predictive models of mortality using the collective data from all wind power sites.

(See also addendums on Regulatory Review Status and Bibliography)


CURRENT STATUS OF REGULATORY REVIEW OF WIND PROJECTS IN NEW YORK STATE

            Presently there is no state oversight or review of wind projects in New York.  Review of individual projects falls to local municipalities, generally town boards and/or town planning boards.

Most localities do not have specific procedures for considering wind projects, and typically they fall under general site plan reviews.  Most projects are of sufficient size and impact that they require review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR).  Generally a town entity serves as lead agency in this review.  As part of the SEQR review, the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation and/or the Fish and Wildlife Service are often asked to comment.  However, DEC has no formal policy on wind projects, and little regulatory control over them.  In addition, they have limited staff to deal with these issues, and their involvement is uneven.

            A number of towns have enacted wind power ordinances, often in response to a project being proposed.  These laws establish criteria for wind turbines, such as:  setbacks from property lines and residences; noise levels; construction standards; decommissioning procedures; requirements for pre-construction, and possibly post-construction studies; among others.  Some local regulations may be pre-empted by state or federal statutes.  In addition, towns often negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the wind developer.

            Since wind projects are considered and reviewed individually, there is little or no consideration of the cumulative impacts of projects on a regional or statewide basis.  Nor is there any statewide assessment of preferred locations for wind projects based on wind resources, electricity demand, social considerations, and other factors.  In addition, there is no means to judge the relative environmental impacts of projects since individual municipalities review these impacts.  Often factors such as local public opinion or increased revenue to the town carry greater weight than environmental concerns.

            Currently the NY State Legislature is considering reauthorization of a lapsed law regulating siting of electricity generating facilities such as coal and gas-fired plants.  Legislation has been proposed to also regulate larger wind projects under this law, which would allow a broader view of proposals and bring more uniform standards to evaluating projects.  However, it would also likely limit, but not eliminate, local control over wind projects.  Ideally, such a law would provide for professional analyses and cumulative assessment, as well as funding for intervenors in the review process.  The status and likelihood of passage of this legislation is uncertain at this time.

A Partial Bibliography of Wind Power and Its Environmental Effects

American Energy: The Renewable Path to Energy Security. 2006. Worldwatch Institute.
www.worldwatch.org/node/4405 - 15k

Patterns and trends, New York State energy profiles: 1991-2005. New York State Energy Resource Development. www.nyserda.org/Energy_Information/energy_facts.asp

Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects. 2007. National Research Council. www.nap.edu/catalog/11935.html

Wind Power Impacts on Wildlife and Government Responsibilities for Regulating Development and Protecting Wildlife. 2005. United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Requesters.  www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-05-906

Barclay, R. M. R., E. F. Barewald, and J. C. Gruver. 2007. Variation in bat and bird fatalities at wind energy facilities: assessing the effects of rotor size and tower height. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85:381-387.

Annual Report for the Maple Ridge Wind Power Project: Post-construction bird and bat mortality study – 2006.   www.wind-watch.org/documents/wp-content/uploads/maple_ridge_report_2006_final.pdf
 

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