New York State
Ornithological Association

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ConservationPosted 7/7/09
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DEC Finalizes Wind Power Guidelines
Andy Mason, NYSOA Conservation Committee
Published in the April 2009 issue of NY Birders

Wind Turbines & Bald Eagle

The NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has issued its final guidelines for conducting bird and bat studies at commercial wind energy projects. These guidelines are intended to provide wind power developers with DEC’s recommendations for surveying for birds and bats at sites where these projects are planned.

Draft guidelines were put out over a year ago, and the NYSOA Conservation Committee submitted extensive comments during the public participation period. We also encouraged member organizations and individual members to review the document and also comment.

It is important that DEC be involved with wind projects, since the legal responsibility for reviewing environmental impacts typically falls to local town and planning boards. These bodies lack the expertise and interest to properly assess threats to birds, so they tend to rely on information from the developers—hardly an unbiased source.

DEC’s role is technically only advisory, unless threatened or endangered species are a significant concern. However, the review process with existing projects indicates that both the developers and local governments give great weight to DEC’s guidance in avian studies.

As for the recommendations themselves, they can be viewed as adequate, but not burdensome. DEC lays out a two-step process for wind projects. The first is a standard study evaluating habitat, a compilation of existing knowledge of bird presence at the site, identification of nearby concentration areas for birds, and a minimum of one-year of onsite bird surveys including monitoring breeding and migrating songbirds, and migrating raptors. If results from the initial standard study indicate a potential serious threat to birds or bats, additional years of study will be recommended.

If projects are proposed on or near landscape features and resources of potential concern such as ridge tops, near coastlines, or other areas that may concentrate birds, expanded preconstruction studies are recommended. These include use of radar to survey nocturnal migrating birds, daily monitoring of raptors through migration periods, more thorough breeding bird surveys, and wintering bird surveys.

NYSOA had called for consideration of these geographic features in our comments on the draft guidelines. Although the final document does not go as far in this regard as we had recommended, it is clear that the threats to bird concentration areas that we pointed out were recognized in the final guidelines.

The guidelines also spell out procedures for standard and expanded post-construction surveys. These are important to assess the accuracy of pre-construction predictions of avian and bat mortality and provide data that can be used in evaluating future wind projects.

Although these recommendations are a helpful guide for wind developers, municipalities and interested groups and citizens, it is important that the public be involved in the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process for wind projects. Without adequate scrutiny, wind projects can be located in places they should not go, or be halted by misguided residents in areas where they can be properly sited.

To read the final guidelines, visit the DEC website.

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