24 June 2009

Maine Report Evaluates Coastal Avian Resources and Wind Turbine Siting

With the great interest in developing wind power generating facilities off the coast of Maine, there is an increased concern about what impacts may occur to birds and bats.

A newly released report, by Wing Goodale and Tim Divoll, issued by the BioDiversity Research Institute, was prepared to "aid the Maine Ocean Energy Task Force in selecting test sites for offshore wind turbines and the development of a permitting process," according to the report, titled "Birds, Bats and Coastal Wind Farm Development in Maine: A Literature Review."

"This is the first known review of how the European literature can help with best siting of marine wind farms in Maine," said Goodale. "There has been great interest in what has been learned in Europe and how that can be applied to Maine."

"With the strong momentum to develop renewable energy from offshore wind power in Maine, BioDiversity Research Institute prepared this literature review to summarize what European scientist have learned about how birds can be impacted by marine wind farms. We hope that this report will aid policy makers with their tough decisions on where to site turbine test areas as well as large scale commercial wind farms. Additionally, the scientific papers reviewed in the report provide critical information on how to significantly reduce impacts to birds and how to mitigate the loss of habitat and collision mortality that may occur."

The review "summarizes the areas of potential impacts, monitoring methodologies, adaptive management options, and types of mitigation while providing some Maine-specific recommendations. This review is primarily focused on the literature of marine wind farm impacts in Europe, although there are some references to terrestrial studies that may apply to offshore development."

"For many of the species of concern in the state there is very good information on where the birds breed, prepare for migration, and forage during the winter," Goodale said. "There is however, poor information on the daily movements of the birds flying from roosting and foraging areas as well as migration corridors. Consequently, research needs to start today on the foraging and migration patterns of Maine birds."

Map showing a ranking of bird use along the Maine coast. Courtesy of the BioDiversity Research Institute.

The report used numerous sources of information to prepare a map which illustrates a preliminary ranking of bird use at different locales. "The data is primarily from Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," Goodale said.

The following are some examples of species of critical concern that occur along the coast of Maine, according to report findings:

  • "Seabirds: ca. 7,500 pairs common terns, 4,300 pairs Arctic terns, 200 pairs roseate terns, 920 puffins
  • "Purple Sandpipers: 2/3 of North American population winters in Maine, mostly in Penobscot Bay (7-10 thousand)
  • "Harlequin Duck: ca. 1,300 of the 1,800 North American population winters in Maine. Ca. 900 are in outer Penobscot Bay.
  • "Eagle Nests: ca. 40% of the state’s nests are along the coast
  • "Shorebirds: Gulf of Maine is the most important southern migration staging area on the East Coast

"Throughout the scientific literature there are three consistent conclusions," according to the review of research:

1) "Proper siting of wind farms can significantly reduce avian impacts;
2) "Pre-construction baseline survey work is critical to ensure proper siting; and
3) "There is great site, species, season, and weather variation."

Several management strategies can be used to reduce potential negative impacts to bird populations, according to the report:

  • "Develop monitoring protocol to record impacts for adaptive management and mitigation because greatest impacts can be from only a few turbines
  • "Use radar to detect migrating birds and turn off turbines during poor weather
  • "Make the turbines more visible to birds
  • "Align turbine arrays to allow for bird movement
  • "Ensure proper lighting to avoid collisions (as little as possible, white better than red)"

"Because of the complexity of these issues, and the necessity to make decisions based on existing data that in many cases is limited," the report recommends "the formation of a Bird and Bat Advisory Board that can assist Maine law makers with the difficult decisions on where to site both test and large-scale commercial facilities." It would be comprised of scientists from federal, state, and nongovernmental organizations "that would assist in identifying test sites, and develop a monitoring protocol and conduct pre-construction monitoring at the proposed test sites."

"As Maine works developing offshore wind and wind on Maine islands, there is the need for the formation of a Bird and Bat Advisory Board," Goodale said. "There is such complexity on how different birds will be potentially affected, only a group of the State’s top bird scientist will be able to help guide how to minimize impacts."

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