Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wind power: New wings join raptors over Allegheny Escarpment...

Wind power is taking flight on colossal white wings over the Allegheny Escarpment along Shaffer Mountain's skyline in western Pennsylvania. Photo by author 10/11/08.

Migrating raptors have owned the airspace over the Allegheny Escarpment for millions of years. Now, mega wind power is colliding with ancient raptor flight paths and with human sensibilities.

A world leader in wind power development is setting up housekeeping in PA. Giant Spanish turbine manufacturer and wind farm developer, Gamesa is bringing Union-friendly green collar jobs and wind-borne megawatts to PA. Not all citizens are pleased. Local roadside signs protest the wind farm project. One example found at the ends of dooryard drives beside both McCain--Palin and Obama--Biden signs reads, "Gamesa is harvesting subsidies, not green power."

Many two-megawatt turbines are spinning on towers already. One website claims forty are slated for erection along the escarpment to complete this pioneering project. Special agreements were written to allow launching the project. Regulations will be penned as experience with mega wind power demonstrates impacts. No legislation currently exists regulating numerical impacts on wildlife (birds and bats, mainly), or requiring remedies other than changing requirements for operation. Current agreements require monitoring and reporting.

Wind turbines along the southern Allegheny Front.

An aerial photo shows the close spacing of towers currently testing the winds and flight paths of birds and bats along linear Allegheny ridge tops. I drove by several similar clusters near Route 160 between Summerset and Center City, PA in early-October.

Both presidential candidates promise large investments in alternative energy development along with a slew of green-collar jobs. No doubt, wind turbines will become a common sight on windy landscapes throughout the United States. How will wind power development impact birds and bats? That depends on placement. The photograph of turbine assembly above was taken just a few miles from The Allegheny Front Hawk Watch...

Hawk counters with the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch search the sky for raptors from their Shaffer Mountain lookout.

More than twenty pairs of binoculars rose to observers' eyes in unison when someone first called out, "Heavy bird coming in over the notch." Excited hawk watchers found the large bird and followed its approach, waiting to see more as it grew larger in view with passing seconds. Someone braved a preliminary identification, "That's got to be an eagle." A murmur of agreement arose in the crowd of onlookers. Then, without bending a wing, the big bird tipped, exposing long white patches at the base of flight feathers of wings and tail. "It's a golden," voices called in unison. Soon its smallish head (compared to a Bald Eagle juvenile) and sunlit golden hackles on its nape became obvious to all. Someone called out, "It's a juvenile Golden Eagle," The official counter added a tic-mark to the list of birds seen this day. It was the third Golden Eagle for the day at the Shaffer Mountain lookout where the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch is supported and conducted by volunteers with the Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society and guests.

The Shaffer Mountain lookout is situated on a western bulge of Shaffer Mountain overlooking a vast valley 800 feet below. It's the leading edge of the Allegheny Escarpment, the eastern continental divide.

Migrating birds of many Families, particularly raptors, move eastward from as far west as Alaska before turning southward at the Appalachian Mountains. The Allegheny Escarpment and the knife-edge ridges of the Ridge and Valley Province, particularly the Kittatinny Ridge of eastern PA. These mountains greatly predate the Pleistocene glaciations and shaped the migratory movements of birds before multiple glacial advances reshaped North America and bird migration. The sinuous mountain chain leads birds to warmer climes on wind-assisted wings.

These ancient flight paths may be at risk. We don't have enough information today to guide choices beyond obvious avoidance of traditionally observed pathways. The vigilance of birders will help guide future placement of wind farms so we can reduce bird losses while gaining green jobs, and reducing carbon tonnage in the atmosphere.

1 comment:

windintree said...

Very good and very true article. This should be printed in our local newspapers also where all can read the truth.

Shaffer Mountain resident.