Game Commission Wind Energy Pact Ratified

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Game Commission today signed cooperative, voluntary agreements with 12 companies to avoid, minimize and potentially mitigate any adverse impacts the development of wind energy may have on the state’s wildlife resources.

Brokered with substantial input from wind energy industry representatives and assistance from the Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Collaborative, the Game Commission’s “Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement” aims to provide guidance and consistency – in the absence of compulsory regulations for private lands – for development of wind turbines sites, which have become one of the state’s fastest-growing industries. In addition to the Game Commission, the PWWC is comprised of representatives from the Governor’s Office, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as conservation organizations and the wind industry.

“This agreement is the product of cooperation and mutual interest to safeguard wildlife resources – as thoroughly and uniformly as possible – by all parties involved,” explained Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “It’s understood that the advancement of renewable energy initiatives can create wildlife impacts. But this agreement has established protocols that will pave the way for wind energy development to occur in a more amenable and disciplined manner that is expected to largely satisfy developers and address potential bat and bird impacts identified by the Game Commission’s wildlife managers.

“The agreement standardizes wildlife monitoring and impact review procedures for primarily migrating raptors – particularly eagles – and bats. It also engenders heightened focus on project sites for direct and indirect impacts to ‘priority’ breeding wild birds listed in Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan. But if problems for other, more common, species arise, the protocols should identify them.”

Speaking on behalf of the Rendell Administration, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Michael DiBerardinis and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty offered their support for the cooperative agreement developed by the Game Commission.

“The Game Commission’s voluntary agreement is a model for the nation,” DiBerardinis said. “It grew out of their participation in a science-based, collaborative effort of government, industry and others that DCNR formed more than a year ago to work on wind power siting guidelines. We appreciate the Game Commission’s strong commitment to that process, and we commend the agency for the agreement it has crafted. This work benefits the citizens of Pennsylvania and is appropriate to the unique natural resources we’re all striving to protect.”

“The wind power industry is an integral piece of Governor Rendell’s Energy Independence Strategy, creating new manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania, helping cut energy costs for consumers, and giving electricity generators the ability to meet the requirements of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards,” McGinty said. “This collaborative process has given consideration to how this new infrastructure affects wildlife, and established guidelines for the industry that will safely allow us to develop this promising source of clean energy.”

The Game Commission’s WEVC Agreement enhances the troubleshooting capacity of the Commonwealth’s standard review process, the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory, by gathering new information for the construction or project site. The agreement’s protocols establish current, site-specific reviews to measure pre- and post-construction wildlife activities and seasonal events, including site visitation and usage and migration, and will lead to a better understanding of the site’s ecology.

Those companies who signed voluntary agreements today are (listed in alphabetical order): AES Headwaters Wind, L.L.C. of Arlington, VA; AES Keystone Wind, L.L.C. of Arlington, VA; Airtricity, Inc. of Austin, TX; CPV Wind County Line, L.L.C. of Braintree, MA; Energy Unlimited, Inc. of West Conshohocken, PA; Freedom Wind Energy, L.L.C of White Oak, PA; Gamesa Energy USA of Philadelphia, PA; Iberdrola Renewable Energies USA, LTD of Radnor, PA; PPM Atlantic Renewable of Washington, D.C.; ReEnergy, L.L.C. of Arnold, MD; UPC Wind Management, L.L.C. of Newton, MA; and US Wind Force, L.L.C. of Wexford, PA.

Under the agreement, a cooperator, or site developer, must notify the Game Commission at least 14 months in advance of wind energy site construction to ensure the agency has sufficient time to assess the land’s importance to wildlife and whether species of special conservation concern traverse, nest, feed or rest in it throughout the year or during spring and fall migrations. Notification shall include details of the project’s infrastructure, topographic maps, demarcation of electrical transmission lines, and planned surface impacts. The agency’s initial review – limited to 45 days – will help identify wildlife that use the land – both year-round and seasonally – and assess species use of the land and the air space directly above it.

If a project is proposed for construction in one of Pennsylvania’s “Important Bird Areas,” or within an area supporting “birds of greatest conservation concern,” field survey work will include checks to confirm or deny the presence of nesting birds one day in May and two in June. Additional survey work may be required for state-listed birds and mammals known to inhabit the site. The agreement also requires the project area to be checked for caves, abandoned mine portals, particularly prevalent in the Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains and Ridge and Valley province, or other openings in the ground that bats use as winter hibernacula. Additionally, the field review includes raptor surveys to determine the number, height of flight, time of day, flight path, avoidance behavior and species that pass through the project area in the spring and fall.

Another important facet of the agreement is post-construction bat and bird mortality monitoring. Mortality monitoring is the most crucial work conducted because it is used to develop estimates of the number of birds and bats are being killed at a specific site. If high mortality is occurring on a site, or at a particular turbine, discussions about remedial action would follow.

“Conducting pre-construction mortality surveys and project reviews provides the Game Commission with a means to measure its initial risk assessments,” said Bill Capouillez, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management director. “This critical information has been sought by Pennsylvania and nationally for some time. In the ongoing absence of this information, we find ourselves continually examining the same impact questions without having reliable data to make valid scientific conclusions. The post-construction survey work will provide a more complete understanding of a project’s impact on wildlife and assess whether more must be done to further protect birds and mammals of special concern.”

For centuries, migrating bats and birds of prey have faced few obstacles in their migration corridors as they travel between wintering and breeding ranges. Other than an occasional collision with skyscraper windows, communication and electrical towers, and aircraft, these well-traveled routes have historically provided safe ways with seasonal wind currents for birds and bats to do interstate and transcontinental travel. Wind turbines, given their dominant presence on any mountaintop, harbor the potential to change nature’s way, if sited without concern for consequence.

“The cooperation agreement lays the groundwork from which we can build and better manage Pennsylvania’s unfolding wind energy program,” emphasized Dan Brauning, who supervises the Game Commission’s Wildlife Diversity Section. “Pennsylvania’s private-property ridge-tops are prime real estate for wind farms and we must play a more active role in their development if we are to ensure that potential wildlife impacts are considered and addressed. Unfettered siting will not serve the best interests of wildlife or the countless Pennsylvanians who consider wildlife an invaluable natural resource.”

The Pennsylvania Wind and Wildlife Collaborative is working to cultivate and fine-tune specific principles, policies, best management practices, guidelines, and tools that can be used to assess risk to habitat and wildlife from wind power development, and to mitigate for the impact of that development.

Currently, Pennsylvania is home to at least seven operating wind turbine sites. Another 60 or so currently are being investigated for possible construction. About 15,000 individual wind turbines were sited in America as of late 2001.

Development of wind energy is championed in Pennsylvania by Governor Edward G. Rendell and nationally by U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Energy generated by wind turbines is produced without emissions, and is considered “environmentally-friendly.” Wind farms are now in operation in about half of the United States. In 2004, Gov. Rendell signed the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act that requires 18 percent of the electricity sold to retail customers in Pennsylvania to come from renewable and advanced energy sources within 15 years.

In mid-March, Kempthorne announced the formation of a Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee to advise him on effective measures to avoid or minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats related to land-based wind energy facilities.

“We know that wind power may be key to providing a vital new source of clean, renewable energy for America,” said Kempthorne. “But we also know that wind turbines can cause bird and bat mortality and may have other ecological impacts. This committee will help us examine issues such as site selection and turbine design so that we can develop wind resources while protecting wildlife.”

Within just the last month, the Game Commission has been provided an early opportunity to review and comment on proposed projects that would encompass nearly 40,000 acres. Without the Wind Voluntary Cooperation Agreement framework in place, it is doubtful the agency would have known about these projects early enough in the industry’s decision-making process to be nearly as effective in avoiding and minimizing potential bat and bird impacts.

“This agreement promotes teamwork and has reasonable requirements,” Capouillez emphasized. “It certainly symbolizes Pennsylvania’s concern for wildlife, which has been reaffirmed by the wind-energy partners who have chosen to be a part of it. Several developers started conducting business under the agreement guidelines before it was signed. The Game Commission already has received feedback from many other wind-energy developers and states that recognize the mutual benefits of Pennsylvania’s agreement and may well follow suit with similar types of initiatives.”

For more information on the PWWC, visit DCNR’s website www.dcnr.state.pa.us and click on “Wind Energy and Wildlife” in the “Hot Topics” listing in the right-hand column of the homepage.

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