Wind farm project put on hold over concerns about bald eagles

Craig Holt

June 19, 2012 at 8:59 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Wintering waterfowl like these tundra swans may not have to worry about flying into 497-foot-tall wind mills, as a Chicago-based energy company has put on hold its plans to build a 11,000-acre wind farm in Beaufort County, just two miles from the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
Craig Holt
Wintering waterfowl like these tundra swans may not have to worry about flying into 497-foot-tall wind mills, as a Chicago-based energy company has put on hold its plans to build a 11,000-acre wind farm in Beaufort County, just two miles from the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
Invenergy LLC of Chicago, operating in North Carolina as Pantego Wind Energy, apparently has thrown in the towel on locating a controversial “wind farm” in Beaufort County, close to a major national wildlife refuge.

However, Invenergy/PWE said it would continue to study the problem an 11,000-acre wind farm with 497-foot-tall wind mills would pose to local bird life, specifically endangered and protected bald eagles.

Invenergy/PWE conducted a bird study six months after being given the go-ahead by the N.C. Utilities Commission to plant build 49 wind mills at the Beaufort site, some of the wind-driven blades less than 2 miles from Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge — but with the caveat that the company must complete a study of the effects of the spinning blades on wildlife.

 

Invenergy handed the finds of the preliminary study to The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which released results showing “as few as five and as many as 20 bald eagles” possibly could be killed by the spinning blades. A federal “incidental-take” waiver could be obtained, and Invenergy/PWE has said it may seek such a permit, but no incidental-take permits for such a large number of eagles ever has been granted.

 

"There’s greater bald eagle activity than we originally anticipated,” said Dave Groberg, the company’s vice president of business development. “We’ll look carefully at what we can do to minimize the impacts and mitigate the impacts.”

 

The wind farm had plenty of critics, but it did have a few local supporters.

 

“I have no problem with (the wind farm) site at all,” said Diane Bowen, a former catfish farmer with her husband who now sells Pantego Plantation Breader to Whole Food Stores. “It would generate income for landowners and property taxes for the county. And I  think the birds will adjust to wind mills like they do to power lines, trees, buildings, radio and cell phone towers and low-flying crop dusters.”

 

Bowen indicated that the main opponents of the project were from outside the county.

 

“It’s coming from people who don’t live here,” she said. “People who testify against (wind farms) are transplants from other places and don’t live in this county and, if they do, it’s never on farms.”

 

Bowen, who said she already had agreed to lease her land to Invenergy/PWE, said wind mills “don’t spin so fast” that birds couldn’t avoid them.

 

Environmental efforts in Washington, D.C., and administration policy also support wind power, she said.

 

“Power companies are mandated by government to purchase green energy,” Bowen said. “(Wind power) isn’t the cheapest energy, but as long as the government doesn’t want, coal, oil and natural gas, and we are awash in natural resources (wind), the government’s going to pick winners and losers.”

 

Beaufort is one of North Carolina’s poorest counties, with an extremely small tax base. The county commissioners voted unanimously during March to support the project; they also previously had encouraged the U.S. Navy to build a practice landing field (OLF) near Pocosin Lakes NWR, a project that was abandoned after seven years of opposition from local and environmental groups and state agencies.

 

Invenergy officials also said they are reviewing Currituck and Camden counties for a wind farm. but Groberg said that site would be independent of Pantego and not an alternate location. 






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