GAO Report Calls for More Federal Oversight of Wind Power

A recent report from the Federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at bird and bat deaths caused by wind turbines and found both good and bad news for wind power.

Perhaps most important to the growing industry, the GAO did not find wind power responsible for a “significant” number of bird deaths as has often been perceived by the public and more often promulgated by opponents of wind power. “In the context of other sources of avian [mortality], it does not appear that wind power is responsible for a significant number of bird deaths,” the report states in its conclusion. The report, however, found that some state and local officials don’t necessarily always have the proper expertise to determine whether a proposed wind farm will harm wildlife, particularly birds or bats. “Concerns are compounded by the fact that the regulation of wind power varies from location-to-location and some state and local regulatory agencies we reviewed generally had little experience or expertise in addressing the environmental and wildlife impacts from wind power,” the report said. In addition, the report found that no agency was considering the impacts of wind power on a larger regional scale. In light of these findings, the GAO said it wants federal officials to take a more active role in helping state and local officials analyze how wind farms impact wildlife. The report called for the Secretary of the Interior to direct the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop consistent communication for state and local wind power regulators. The report was requested by Congressmen Alan Mollohan and Congressman Nick Rahall; both Democrats representing West Virginia. Recently discovered bat deaths at the 66 MW Mountaineer wind farm in their state have raised new concerns over wind power’s impact on the environment that it is ironically supposed to protect. The report does confirm that while the numbers of bats flying into wind turbines at some locations in Appalachia raise concern and remain unexplained, more data is needed. And it is, and has been, forthcoming. As soon as the wind power industry found out about high bat mortality rates at the Mountaineer wind project, they responded quickly with the establishment of a research program between American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), individual wind energy companies, Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other stakeholder groups. This effort is ongoing and expected to yield further clues about the situation, which is limited to a small area in Appalachia. AWEA executive director Randall Swisher agreed with the GAO report that more needs to be learned about wind-bat interactions. “The industry believes that bats and wind turbines can and must coexist, and is working with stakeholder groups and experts to understand the issue and try to find ways to avoid or at least reduce collisions,” Swisher said. “The wind energy industry welcomes scrutiny of, and comparison with, all of the impacts of all sources of power generation,” Swisher said. “We have nothing to hide. We hope that lawmakers and consumers concerned about impacts of energy use — as well they should be — will also call for detailed studies on the impacts of other operating or proposed power plants in the region.” Online copies of the report are available on the GAO Web site at the following link.
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