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Proposed wind farm imperils falcons, other threatened species

Proposed New Hampshire wind farm imperils falcons, other threatened species. New Hampshire IBERDROLA/Audubon involved

Groton, New Hampshire 1/29/11

Possible collusion and fraudulent Environmental Impact studies may be paving the way for the $120 million Groton Wind Project to move forward despite very real danger to threatened species, including the Peregrine Falcon. Mortality would come from falcons colliding with the turbine blades as well as the environmental degradation caused by the construction.

Deadline to approve or deny the project is April 26, 2011.

The Environmental Impact study was conducted jointly and prepared by Stantec Consulting Inc., and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire Conservation Department. Recent review of the study by raptor expert and biologist Jim Wiegand revealed glaring flaws in the methods and conclusions of the Falcon Survey.

“Peregrine Falcons are spectacular to observe in flight. They are so quick that they can make other birds look like they are moving in slow motion. They routinely dive from thousands of feet at speeds exceeding 250 mph. They can travel several miles in less than a minute. They can zip though the proposed turbines of the project in less than 60 seconds. So to think or even suggest that these birds do not use the airspace at 100-500 feet above the ridgelines and peaks in the Groton Project area is preposterous.“

Jim Wiegand has a long history with the peregrine falcon. Decades ago his falcons were used as breeding stock to help replenish this endangered species in the Western US. Offspring were released through the supervision of UC Santa Cruz.

Threatened peregrine falcons hunt, roost and nest in aeries around the proposed Groton wind farm construction site. Soaring birds, bats and other flying species are at grave risk from the guillotine-like action of the rotating blades (with tip speeds of over 220 miles an hour.) Birds of prey are unfortunately drawn to such farms due to large, clear, disrupted areas because of the hunting opportunities presented there as well as the placement of many wind farms precisely along migratory flight paths of cranes, geese and other wildlife.

Even so, studies by the Audubon Society of New Hampshire and Stantec Consulting claim peregrines will not be impacted by the construction of this facility

“Their survey is a joke and has so much bias that I am convinced it is by design,” Wiegand observed in a recent email. “The wording, graphs, and limited observations in my opinion are solely used for the purpose of deception. Somebody should sue to stop the project and force them to do a new INDEPENDENT study. Somebody needs to look very close at the nearby cleared areas of the ski trails on Tenny Mountain and transmission line path. I know without a doubt these falcons hunt these areas. I know how these birds think and hunt. As the turbine sites are developed the clearing of trees and brush around the turbines will create breaks that the falcons will hunt. They will do this because they will catch birds trying to cross these new open areas before they can reach cover. Much like they do when catching prey over a river. Because of this, the turbine sites will actually attract more hunting falcons.”

He goes on to say that this bogus survey is actually helpful because their prey list for the falcons unknowingly shows species of birds that live along these cleared areas. “A survey should be done in those areas to show that the falcons are hunting the breaks in the forest and that the project development will create new hunting opportunities for the falcons that will increase fatalities,” Wiegand advises.

A look at the accompanying images will illustrate his point.

Other species at risk include American bald eagles, golden eagles, American kestrels, broad-winged hawks, red tailed, red shouldered, cooper’s and sharp shinned hawks, northern harriers, northern goshawks, merlins, turkey vultures and osprey. Any species that migrates is also at risk.

Why would anyone wish to produce misleading studies?

There is a great deal of money invested in, and profit to be made by, the construction and operation of wind farms. This is big business on the utility company scale, and anything involving such immense sums is wide open to manipulation.

Such manipulation extends as far as downgrading protection for Federally protected endangered species should such protection interfere with a profitable utility project; for instance current pressure for down-listing the California condor from Endangered status to Threatened, despite the fact that there are no truly free-flying wild California condors in existence (the ones flying in California are fed at feeding stations to prevent NATURAL foraging behavior from leading them right into the guillotine blades of various lethal wind farm projects such as the ones located near Tehachapi Pass in California.)

As far as New Hampshire, it’s already known that the falcons are drawn to such cleared areas to hunt, and the nearby ski trails etc., are already luring falcons into this area. Combining this hunting activity with whirling turbine blades (which are infamous for slicing soaring birds in half) will certainly have a negative impact on the fragile peregrine population. Why does the study not acknowledge this?

“Keep in mind there are not very many Prairie Falcons hanging around at Altamont Pass (California) but they have been killed there. It is in the records. Another thing to note is that these falcons have huge, heavily defended territories. So there never will be many in any given area. An honest way of stating the true impact of the proposed project it is that, with complete certainty, peregrine falcons will be killed by the (New Hampshire) project. The uncertainty is how many are killed?”

Based on the nest locations and turbine placement, the first nest site to be abandoned will be the one on Rattlesnake Mountain. Less breeding activity of course means fewer falcons.

“Will the turbines in the project kill off of individual birds until there are none left to kill or count? It is very possible.”

This is not the kind of Environmental Impact logic needed to protect threatened or endangered species

The motivating factor of course is money. For evidence of the kind of money involved, take a look at this, from the Iberdrola web site:

Iberdrola USA News Releases

Iberdrola USA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Iberdrola S.A., is a super-regional energy services and delivery company with operations throughout Maine and New York State. Iberdrola USA’s assets include the regulated utilities: Central Maine Power, New York State Electric & Gas and Rochester Gas and Electric.

2010

11/17/2010

Iberdrola Closes Sale of Three U.S. Subsidiaries in Transaction Valued at

$1.25 Billion

09/28/2010

Iberdrola, Iberdrola USA and CMP Kick Off $1.4 Billion Transmission Project and

$166 Million Advanced Metering Project

05/25/2010

Iberdrola Agrees to Sale of Three U.S. Gas Companies to Help Finance Major

New England Transmission Project

When this kind of money is involved, even so called conservation organizations are not immune to persuasion.

The official Falcon Survey report shows that researchers did not even observe the falcons when they would be the most active; during courtship in the Spring and during their dawn and dusk daily hunts. Yet the stated objective of the survey was to investigate whether peregrine falcons use the Project area. From the way the study was conducted, it appears the survey was purposely designed so observers would see the falcons using the project area as little as possible.

Even the researchers themselves note this flaw in the survey; "Therefore, the results of the 2009 surveys can not describe peregrine activity during all daylight hours during the period of interest, or describe activity across the entire Project area.”

Yet Iberdrola, in their Executive summary, boldly makes the following statement; " Rare, threatened, or endangered bird species that were documented in the Project area during these surveys include peregrine falcon (state- listed threatened), bald eagle (state-listed threatened), and common loon (state- listed threatened). None of these species reside within the project area. No federally-listed threatened or endangered birds were observed during any of the field surveys."

“This statement is totally false because I know these falcons do use the air space above the proposed project area. They do this during courtship, defending territories, hunting, to travel easily several miles to a preferred perch or even just having fun or showing off in the air currents,” Jim Wiegand explained. “I watch them do these activities every year in the Shasta lake area. The ridge lines and peaks around Shasta Lake in California are larger than those in the Groton area project sites, so those in New Hampshire are not much of an obstacle for these birds. Yet the survey produced for the project would have the ignorant thinking otherwise. And if the project is completed they will attempt to use the project area even more.”

To put the scale of this new development in perspective, “These 25 turbines do not sound like much of a threat to birds and bats when compared to the thousands of infamous KVS-33 turbines installed at Altamont pass,” Jim stated, “Here is the reality; these turbines are so huge that the deadly kill zone for birds and bats (rotor sweep area) equals approximately 750 of the early turbines installed at Altamont. They extend 400 feet into the air. Put the blades tip to tip and they stretch approximately 1 1/2 miles.

“Think about this; a kill zone as wide as a football field and 1 ½ miles long. These blades also have far greater tip speeds than the killer turbines at Altamont. The original turbines installed at Altamont and Tehachapi had maximum tip speeds of 110-125 mph at 80 rotations per minute. The new so called "safer" turbines proposed for the Groton Wind project will have blade tip speeds of 220 mph at 20 rotations per minute.”

That’s 30 times the size of previous turbines and vastly more wildlife mortality.

Yet we’re told by those representing the Groton Wind Project that their wind utility is "not likely" to kill the falcons?

Apparently wind farms and other utilities are now assigning themselves the role of guardians of our wildlife, and thus conducting their own biased research studies for proposed projects.

This begs the question, should the fox be put in charge of drafting impact statements on vulnerable hen houses? Where are the opposing views from wildlife agencies entrusted to protect our wildlife? Should a utility company such as Iberdrola be entrusted to truly protect the best interests of the rare and endangered species at risk directly due to their profitable corporate/utility activity within their ranges? “Look at their history with the Manzanza Wind project located in California condor habitat,” Jim reminds us. “It was approved with a bogus Environmental Impact Report.”

If we are to begin enjoying truly ‘Green’ energy sources, it has to include wildlife-friendly technology. From all evidence, no wind farms built are yet environmentally friendly.

Jim Wiegand states, “Regarding this report statement, ‘The Rattlesnake aerie prey remains analysis provided some information on how likely peregrine falcons are to forage in habitats that occur within the Groton Wind Project area,’ the truth is, prey species change with all the seasons. The study did not take this into consideration. I know how these birds think and hunt. As the turbine sites are developed, the clearing of trees and brush around the turbines will create breaks that the falcons will hunt. They will do this because they will catch birds trying to cross these new open areas before they can reach cover. Much like they do when catching prey over a river. Because of this, the turbine sites will actually attract more hunting falcons, owls and accipiter's after the habitat is changed.

“There are serious problems with this survey (including the time of day and time of year observations were made) and in my opinion the only real use of the survey that was conducted is to document the numerous types of raptors and birds that use the area throughout the year. Eventually every one of these species listed will perish at the turbine sites.”

To take action and assist wildlife in the fight against the proliferation of wind farms and the Groton Wind Project in particular, please visit: Groton Wind Project: New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee

Condors and Wind Farms:http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/5302 ; and http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/5109

General Wind Farm information: Marc Duchamp, Iberica 2000