Wind energy development

Juniata Valley Audubon Society's Policy regarding wind development states that,

Industrial wind development on forested ridges creates a suite of ecological problems that outweigh the benefits of a renewable energy source.  Since many birds and bats use our ridges as migratory pathways, tall towers with spinning blades cause almost certain mortality.  In addition, large clearings for turbines and an extensive network of roads through forests create forest fragmentation, which is also a negative impact on forest birds and bats.  For these reasons, as well as many more, the Juniata Valley Audubon Society opposes industrial wind development on forested ridges.

Specifically, if the first of two wind turbine applications proposed by Atlantic Wind, LLC are approved, up to 37 industrial wind turbines would be constructed, impacting three forested mountains in the Wild Creek Watershed: Stony, Pohopoco, and Call Mountains. These turbines, with their associated turbine pads and wide road clearings, will cause extensive forest fragmentation resulting in up to 292 acres of cleared forest.

If the second application is approved, the project will contain 28 turbines in linear rows impacting Pohopoco and Call Mountains, with up to 203 acres of forest being cleared. We know that roads and clearings through forests invite invasive plant species, more avian predators, and more ATVs. None of these are beneficial to forests and their inhabitants.

Wild Creek Watershed produces some of the cleanest water in the nation and is designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as an Exceptional Value Watershed. It is the undeveloped forest that makes this water so clean. Additionally, this water sustains thousands of people and businesses in the Bethlehem area.

Not only do the extensive tracts of forests provide clean water, they also provide homes and sustenance to a number of birds that are species of special concern in Pennsylvania: the Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, Whip-poor-will, Brown Creeper, Wood Thrush, and Golden-winged Warbler breed in the Wild Creek Watershed. Birds that depend on vast forested acreage are also found in this watershed. In addition to the Wood Thrush, Pennsylvania has a global responsibility to provide large areas of unfragmented forest for the Scarlet Tanager since more than 19% of the population breeds in Pennsylvania.

The Wild Creek Watershed is located in the Appalachian Raptor Migration Corridor and partly within the Kittatinny-Shawangunk National Migration Corridor. Raptors use the watershed as stopover sites during migration.

The forests found in the Wild Creek Watershed are some of the most rare and unique habitats in the world. The habitat areas are called Yellow Run Barrens, Pitch Pine Barrens, Hell Creek Barrens, and Pine Run Woods. The term, "barrens," is often misleading as people think it is an area bare of trees and other vegetation. These barrens are actually lush with vegetation, but the trees are stunted and don't grow as tall as in other forests. Yellow Run Barrens contains a scrub oak-heath-pitch pine natural community that is unique in Pennsylvania and should be maintained through prescribed fire. Pitch Pine Barrens is also unique and rare in the state. Hell Creek Barrens contains a Pennsylvania endangered and globally rare plant species of concern, while Pine Run Woods is a maple, oak forest and scrub oak Shrubland Natural Community.

In 2005, when The Nature Conservancy completed a Natural Areas Inventory of Carbon County [PDF], they noted that no threats or disturbances were present in the Wild Creek Watershed because the Bethlehem Authority protected almost the entire watershed.

The Nature Conservancy recommended,

Continued protection will not only serve to protect these important municipal water supplies into the future, but also provide critical open space and wildlife habitat. It will serve to benefit the bird species of special concern [Osprey] and, perhaps, attract additional nesting pairs to the lake. The plant species of concern would be harmed by a loss of overstory and reduction in water quality at this site.

Sadly, in 2013, the Bethlehem Authority leased thousands of acres in the Wild Creek Watershed to Atlantic Wind, LLC. If the project is built, most of the watershed will become an industrial zone for energy production.

Juniata Valley Audubon Society supports properly sited wind projects, but an industrial wind project in the Wild Creek Watershed is clearly inappropriate. We urge the Bethlehem Authority to focus on the generation of clean water and the protection of special habitats and species by protecting the forest.

A recent study, "Return on Environment," which was partly funded by Audubon Pennsylvania, shows the importance of undeveloped forests in Carbon County. To quote:

WE CAN’T AFFORD NOT TO PROTECT CARBON COUNTY’S OPEN SPACE
The first rule of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else. Whatever we do to natural habitats— good or bad, big or small—ripples through the economy. Simply stated, the loss of open space costs more than we know. Losing natural resources, like trees and good water quality, is a significant strategic choice. Natural systems provide a form of insurance or risk management. They work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and have been doing so for the last 10,000 years, free of charge.

Sincerely,

Catie Farr, President
Juniata Valley Audubon Society

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A new study in the Journal of Raptor Research attempts to tally bald eagle and golden eagle deaths at wind energy facilities nationwide, as the AP reports:

Wind energy facilities have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years, but the figure could be much higher, according to a new scientific study by government biologists.

The research represents one of the first tallies of eagle deaths attributed to the nation's growing wind energy industry, which has been a pillar of President Barack Obama's plans to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming. Wind power releases no air pollution.

But at a minimum, the scientists wrote, wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997, with most deaths occurring between 2008 and 2012, as the industry was greatly expanding. Most deaths — 79 — were golden eagles that struck wind turbines. One of the eagles counted in the study was electrocuted by a power line.

The vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, Mike Parr, said the tally was "an alarming and concerning finding."

A trade group, the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement that the figure was much lower than other causes of eagle deaths. The group said it was working with the government and conservation groups to find ways to reduce eagle casualties.

Still, the scientists said their figure is likely to be "substantially" underestimated, since companies report eagle deaths voluntarily and only a fraction of those included in their total were discovered during searches for dead birds by wind-energy companies. The study also excluded the deadliest place in the country for eagles, a cluster of wind farms in a northern California area known as Altamont Pass. Wind farms built there decades ago kill more than 60 per year.

The research affirms an AP investigation in May, which revealed dozens of eagle deaths from wind energy facilities and described how the Obama administration was failing to fine or prosecute wind energy companies, even though each death is a violation of federal law.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which employs the six researchers, has said it is investigating 18 bird-death cases involving wind-power facilities, and seven have been referred to the Justice Department. The authors noted the study's findings do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency, although some of their data was obtained from staff.

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

Wind farms in two states, California and Wyoming, were responsible for 58 deaths, followed by facilities in Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Texas, Maryland and Iowa.

In all, 32 facilities were implicated. One in Wyoming was responsible for a dozen golden eagle deaths, the most at a single facility.

The research was published in the Journal of Raptor Research.

See also Chris Clarke's summary of the findings at his ReWire column for the California-based KCET.org: "California Leads Nation in Wind Turbine Eagle Deaths."

JVAS member Greg Grove's letter to the Huntingdon Daily News:

To the Editor, Daily News;

A recent article in the The Daily News (August 30, 2013) described the possible placement of wind turbines on Jack’s Mt. in an entirely positive light. However, there is another very alarming side to this story.

Approximately a couple dozen land-owners on Jacks Mt. have signed leases permitting the building of turbines and access roads on their properties in the following townships: Union, Menno, Oliver, Granville, and Wayne. In addition, at least three properties have also been leased on Stone Mt. in Brady Township, Huntingdon County.

Our society must develop sources of clean energy, including the use of wind – but turbines should be in places where they will do more good than harm. Wind turbines are massive structures, towering 400 feet or more into the air, much higher the towers that support electric power lines.

The sharply peaked ridgelines of Jacks and Stone are far too narrow for the towers. Not mentioned in the Daily News article is that the construction of the towers and access roads will require removal of a significant portion of the mountain top, perhaps as much as 100 feet (or more) of elevation in some places. That is not a typo – imagine our ridges with 100 feet blasted off the top: environmental destruction on a huge scale.

Along with the sheer destruction, what effect will this have on water supplies? The water on which we depend in the valleys comes in large part from the slopes of Jacks and Stone Mts. Nor do we know the effects of the proposed mountaintop removal on wildlife. For example, each fall and spring, thousands of raptors, including several hundred Bald and Golden Eagles migrate along the two ridges, using the power of the wind deflected up slope to save energy as they move between winter and summer ranges. Turbines extending over 400 above the ridge top, with blade speeds (at the tips) of well over 100 mph will likely kill some as happens at other wind projects. Besides raptors, uncounted thousands of other birds as well as bats fly along the ridges, susceptible to the turning blades.

Economic benefit is cited as a reason to welcome wind farms. How much of a boon may occur remains to be seen. Balance that against the fact that our region derives much income from tourism (everything from sight-seers to hunters). Ridges with their tops blasted away are not likely to enhance the experience of visitors from outside the region. Among other aspects, Jacks is nationally known for hang-gliding appeal, drawing many people to the area. Cut the mountain down and put up towers with spinning blades – that attraction will probably disappear.

Our region would realize no particular benefits from the electricity generated; it would simply go into the national grid. The companies, which are not American, are constructing wind projects in Pennsylvania because a significant portion of their costs is government-subsidized. Pennsylvania’s wind profile is of borderline value for generating electricity–without the subsidies, it is unlikely turbines would be constructed in Pennsylvania.

Township supervisors should be made aware of the issues arising from the building of turbines on Jacks and Stone. They cannot prevent the placement of turbines or of people leasing their land to turbine companies. But they can craft ordinances that put some legal restrictions on the siting of turbines, affording at least some protection for neighboring property owners from turbine noise, shadow flicker, and accidents.

An organization called SOAR (Save Our Allegheny Ridges) has been formed to inform the public and township officials about the negative aspects of wind turbines in our mountains. (http://saveouralleghenyridges.org/). There is also a Facebook group called Friends of Jacks Mountain that provides updates on the situation on Jacks and Stone for those who wish more information.

Greg Grove
Huntingdon