August 24, 2009

Endangered birds a threat to Washington’s wind energy growth

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Plans to expand a proposed 42-turbine wind farm onto state land have been shot down by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) because the area is home to the endangered spotted owl, reports Kathie Durbin of The Columbian.

SDS Lumber Company had considered leasing the forested land for possible expansion of their Whistling Ridge Energy Project in southwest Washington, but withdrew because of concerns over endangered species in the area, a DNR spokesman said. The controversial land is prime spotted owl habitat and the DNR is federally required to treat it as such.

A similar story was making headlines last month, InvestigateWest noted, when the presence of the endangered marbled murrelet complicated plans for a 32-turbine wind mill, also in southwest Washington. Towers in the Radar Ridge project would stand directly in the shorebird’s flight path between ocean feeding grounds and the only remaining nesting site in the area. Not unlike the Whistling Ridge project, the land is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources, and is leased to Energy Northwest, a public power developer.

Both cases highlight Washington power companies’ struggle to comply with I-937, a state initiative that requires large energy companies to obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources, such as wind. The initiative, intended to to help wean the state off fossil fuels and turn to green energy, has stirred up debate as to just how “green” wind power can be — if winged wildlife are harmed in the process.

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