08 May 2008

Wind Farm Developers Proactive in Minimizing Threats to Birds

Measures to minimize the threats to birds are an essential part of the planning and construction process by Midwest Wind Energy for a wind farm facility in Knox County, northeast Nebraska.

"We have a proactive approach to addressing environmentally sensitive issues," said Patrick Dalseth, a project coordinator with the Chicago-based company. "We are an environmentally conscious company, so we contacted state and federal agencies early in the planning process while preparing our proposal to the Nebraska Public Power District. The agencies preliminary feedback on environmental concerns were included in the proposal."

The power district had requested proposals to evaluate from which they could select a project that would increase their use of wind-generated power.

The Elkhorn Ridge Wind Project was chosen from among ten proposals submitted, Dalseth said.

Wind turbines at the Ainsworth Wind Energy facility.

In March, NPPD signed an agreement with Midwest Wind Energy to purchase the 80 megawatts of electricity that would be generated on an annual basis by a turbine farm in the rolling hills near Bloomfield.

"The environmental assessment for this project was relatively easy," Dalseth said. "There were hardly any environmentally sensitive issues" such as wetlands or concerns with turbines being placed along an apparent bird migration corridor.

An avian assessment - step #6 in the companies 12 steps to building a wind farm - was carried out by consulting partners. "Sites undergo thorough ornithology studies to ensure migratory routes stay safe," according to the company web site.

Results indicated there are no state or federally listed species on the project site, which is also east of the migration corridor for the Whooping Crane, a species of special concern in regards to potential impacts of wind farm placement. About 58 different species of birds were noted in the area during site visits.

Two leks of the Greater Prairie-Chicken were present, including one in a crop field.

Their occurrence prompted the company to agree to contribute $37,000 to the Nebraska Land Trust. The funds - $1,000 per turbine plus administrative fees - will be used to "benefit the conservation of grassland nesting birds through acquisition of conservation easements in the Verdigre-Bazille Creek Watershed Biologically Unique Landscape area in conjunction with the Nebraska Legacy Project," according to letters of understanding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

An agreement of understanding on this contribution is expected to be approved by the end of May.

Several other measures to protect avian resources are being included with the project, according to the letters of understanding by the two agencies in late April:

"In acknowledgement that the wind project and ancillary facilities can have an adverse affect on state trust fish and wildlife species including threatened and endangered species and migratory birds, the project proponent has made the following items a part of the proposed project:"

1) Power lines between turbines and to substations at the project site will be buried.
2) Bird flight diverters will be installed on the existing transmission lines that extend through the project area. Midwest Wind Energy will work with NPPD on installing these devices, Dalseth said.
3) All facilities within the project site will be constructed in a manner consistent with guidelines set forth by the Avian Powerline Committee to reduce and avoid mortality and injury to migratory birds.
4) Post-construction monitoring will be conducted for two years to determine the affect of operations on wildlife species. Results will be provided to the oversight agencies for evaluation, and discussion of results, if necessary, Dalseth said.

The company also received a nationwide permit, through a Section 404 evaluation with the Army Corps of Engineers, for underground transmission lines that will cross both natural wetlands and one man-made pond on the project site.

Including the cost of the contribution for protecting habitats for grassland species, about $65-70,000 dollars was spent on environmental review and assessment activities, Dalseth said.

It will cost $140 million to construct the Elkhorn Ridge Wind Project, which will have 27 wind turbines with a height of 410 feet spread across about 8,355 acres, which is about 95% cropland, Dalseth said. Each turbine - except for one - will be placed in tilled cropland, generally along a preexisting, high-voltage transmission line. Red-flashing lights will be placed atop the turbine hubs, to mark their location for planes, following regulatory guidelines of the Federal Aviation Authority.

Construction of the project is currently underway, and expected to be completed about December, 2008.

The steps used to develop the Elkhorn Ridge Wind Project are the same procedures that will be utilized for the construction of any other facilities to generate power from wind, Dalseth said. Midwest Wind Energy is currently evaluating the construction of two other wind facilities in Nebraska, and elsewhere within its area of operation.

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