By Miriam Raftery
March 20, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – Pattern Energy has claimed that a Merlin Avian Radar system at its Ocotillo Express Wind Facility will detect eagles and allow turbines to be shut down to save them from the whirling blades. Avian radar is also proposed at other wind projects proposed in East County.
But now ECM has learned that an eagle was killed at Pattern’s Spring Valley Wind project near Great Basin National Park in Nevada. According to Bureau of Land Management documents, Pattern had claimed in Appendix F, its Avian and Bat Protection Plan, that it planned to install three separate radar systems at the Spring Valley project to prevent deaths of birds and bats, including both Merlin and Vesper technology.
Pattern did not respond to an ECM request for comment. The death, along with mounting evidence indicating avian radar is failing to protect birds at wind sites, raises serious concerns over the fate of eagles in our region, where three more wind farms are proposed in San Diego’s East County.
Pattern had claimed that "Radar units will be placed in the northeastern and southeastern portions of the project area to provide coverage of the entire project area, as well as to detect bats from Rose Guano Cave prior to them reaching the project area." Further, in describing mitigation measures, the document continued, “the radar system may also be used as an "early warning" system, providing advance detection of bird or bat activity that presents mortality risk with the ability to shut down turbines.”
An eagle death has also been documented at the North Sky River wind project, which was reportedly equipped with radar.
Wildlife biologist Jim Wiegand has predicted that reliance on radar would result in a “bloodbath” for birds and bats, including eagles, at wind farms.
“These radars are just a whitewash. They don’t work,” Mark Duchamp with Save the Eagles International told ECM. He forwarded a link documenting white pelicans dying at a wind farm where radar failed to shut down the turbines: http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/45887
ECM reporting has previously questioned the effectiveness of avian radar, noting that an exhausting internet search and contacts to manufacturers had failed to produce a single video showing any turbine ever shutting down when birds approached. Opponents of wind turbines, however, have documented cases of turbines slaughtering birds even when radar was installed.
Kevin Emmerich at Basin and Range Watch, an environmental organization, announced the eagle kill on the group’s website, revealing more troubling details. He has called the Spring Valley Wind Project "a Pattern boondoggle in Northern Nevada. It was approved with just a 30 day environmental assessment, but is 8,000 acres with 66 turbines. The BLM got sued for not reviewing it with a full environ mental impact statement, but they won the lawsuit."
In an e-mail to ECM and others, he revealed, "The eagle was dead for a few days before being found on February 25th. FWS later confirmed it was an eagle that was killed by the trauma of the blades."
The kill triggers a requirement for Pattern to do surveys on all of the 66 turbines as well as surveys for more nests around the project, Emmerson said.
"The Spring Valley Avian Management plan allows one eagle death. BLM is calling that a take, but FWS seems more careful about that. They are saying another MAY trigger turbine curtailment," he noted, adding, "I used to work at Great Basin National Park in the early 1990’s and Spring Valley was known to have a very abundant GE (Golden Eagle) population. Things may be changing."
Claiming radar would be effective for bats seems dubious, given that bat deaths at wind farms occur not from striking turbine blades, but due to air pressure changes that make the bats’ lungs explode, a university study has found.