Research For The Birds (And Wind Turbines)

With great concern for the birds, TreeHugger has posted a series of articles on the problems of wind turbines and bird flyways. We sent a post to one of our favorite green groups - The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) - and were surprised to learn that Israeli ornithologists are involved in monitoring wind turbines and bird migration. One of their conclusions is that perhaps Israel should not operate wind farms at all.

Writes Michelle Levine from the SPNI:

Dan Alon, head of the Israel Ornithological Center (the IOC is also under the umbrella of SPNI), is currently doing research on wind turbines and birds. I'm pasting an article below which I wrote with IOC ornithologist Zev Labinger on this subject regarding our research on wind turbines and migration here in Israel.
You can read Michelle's article after the jump. Since Israel signed the Kyoto Treaty, energy companies have been looking to develop alternative energy — a move one would imagine rather welcome to environmentalists. Yet when the National Planning Committee (NPC) approved plans for building a wind turbine farm directly on the path of the migration flyway, SPNI came out in strong opposition. "Almost the entire Palearctic breeding population of White Pelican, Levant Sparrow hawk Accipiter brevipes and Lesser Spotted Eagle pass through Israel each year," says Dan Alon. "The importance of these flyways to these species cannot be over-emphasized."

Twenty-three turbines are scheduled to be built at Mount Gilboa, the closest within a few hundred meters of an IOC raptor counting station. The remaining 40 turbines will be built at Ramat Serin, about 15 km to the north.

The NPC, heeding SPNI's warning, required the electricity company to carry out bird surveys a year in advance of any turbine construction, and for a year after their completion. The IOC was contracted to carry out this work and the first autumn migration counts began on August 22nd, 2004.

Two observers were stationed at Ramat Serin and one at Mount Gilboa. Birds passing directly over the two areas were counted and totaled over 90,000 individuals during the autumn, including storks, cranes and raptors. "Of the 90,000 birds migrating over, the flight path of roughly 10,000 passed directly through the air space where the wind turbines are planned. Obviously these birds would have been in great danger of collision with the blades," says Alon. Weekly surveys were conducted during the winter, and daily migration surveys resumed on March 1st, 2005. "During the spring of 2005, bird observers counted another 200,000 plus birds, mostly White Storks of which a minimum of 15,000 crossed over the proposed turbine farm within the range of the blades. Thus about 30,000 minimum for both migration seasons are within the highest risk zone," says Zev Labinger, project coordinator.

Working toward a Solution
"The birds we count are just those we can see during daylight hours. Many more migrants fly over at night, including millions of passerines, and even large birds such as cranes. If these turbines are going to be built, there has to be adequate mitigation measures incorporated within their operating procedures", says Alon. "SPNI has managed to convince the NPC that the electric company should not operate turbines when birds are passing, but how are they going to achieve this in practice?"

One possibility is to employ full time observers to watch for approaching birds, or more likely, bird movements will be monitored by radar and when birds approach the turbines, they will be shut down. "It seems impractical, and surely can't lead to smooth power generation. Perhaps the whole issue of whether the turbines should be built at all needs reinvestigating. Israel is not a particularly windy country, and between them the two sites would generate less than 1% of the country's electricity needs." comments Alon. "Is it really worth spoiling the landscape and threatening the annual bird migration phenomenon for this? Even if all the proposed windfarms in Israel are built, they would still only supply 5% of our electricity needs. Surely there is potential for reducing our power needs by this figure and developing alternative sources of energy that would be less harmful to the environment?" ::SPNI

Tags: Birds | Israel | Wind Power

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