Eagle conservation, renewable energy projects at odds over federal rule extension

Companies building large structures such as wind turbines or transmission towers near eagle habitats can now apply for a 30-year permit to be held harmless when eagles are accidentally killed.
by Paul Monies Published: December 13, 2013

A new federal rule will extend the length of permits needed to be held harmless in the deaths of eagles hitting wind turbines or other tall structures.

The rule, which takes effect Jan. 8, extends to 30 years the maximum time companies are allowed to qualify for eagle “take” permits. The permits were previously limited to five years. The wind and solar industries lobbied for the changes, saying the five-year time frame was too short for many renewable energy projects.

“The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewel said in a statement.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will only approve extended, 30-year permits if applicants commit to experimental management techniques to ensure the preservation of eagles. If granted, the permits would be reviewed every five years to make sure incidental eagle deaths or injuries are kept to a minimum.

Bald eagles were taken off the endangered species list in 2007, but they remain protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Wind turbines and other tall structures, such as electricity transmission towers, pose particular hazards to eagles and other raptors. When searching for prey, the birds look down and don't always see hazards until it's too late.

Eagles have a long-standing significance for many American Indian tribes, including the Osage Nation. The tribe opposes two wind projects planned for Osage County because they may interfere with nesting eagles. Some conservationists also don't want wind turbines dotting the landscape, which is part of the tallgrass prairie.

TradeWind Energy Inc.'s Mustang Run project in Osage County will be 136 megawatts. TradeWind is in talks to purchase another Osage County project, the 150-megawatt Osage Wind development, from Wind Capital Group, said spokeswoman Laurie Roberts.

TradeWind hasn't yet decided if it will apply for a voluntary eagle “take” permit for its Mustang Run project, Roberts said. The company estimates it will start construction by early 2015, with the wind farm operational later that year.

by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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