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Dec
10
2013

Wind power vs. eagle power: New regulations hope to spur more development of wind farms (above) by removing penalties power companies face if they kill bald eagles (below).
Wind power vs. eagle power: New regulations hope to spur more development of wind farms (above) by removing penalties power companies face if they kill bald eagles (below).Courtesy Jesus Martinez
In an interesting match-up between alternative energy sources and wildlife protection, wind energy appears to have come out the winner.

The Obama administration and the Interior Department last week decided it will waive penalties for up to three decades to wind energy farms that kill bald eagles in the generation of electrical power. The birds are killed when flying into the path of spinning wind turbine blades. Eagles in flight are especially susceptible to turbine blades as they're attention is often focused on the ground looking for prey rather than looking forward to see obstacles.

The new rule will give legal protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects if companies obtain permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds. If they end up killing more birds than estimated at the start of the project, additional safeguards for the birds would then kick in. Numbers of eagle kills would be reviewed every five years. Wind power companies would have to document eagle deaths caused by their blades, but that information would not be made public.

Proponents of the plan say it will free up companies to look into expanding wind farms and providing "cleaner" electrical power. Currently there are no protections against eagle kills, which might be limiting building new wind farms. Just last month a company was prosecuted for eagle killings at two wind farms in Wyoming.

Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007 but are still protected under two federal laws. Since 2008, official numbers peg eagle deaths due to wind turbine blades at 67. But that figure does not include eagle kills from the Altamont Pass in California, where a large wind farm is believed to kill about 60 eagles a year. Wind turbines can be massive, reaching up to 30 stories tall. Tips of the turbine blades can be spinning at speeds of 170 miles per hour on extremely windy days.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees with the new regulation as it will allow it to more closely monitor the relationship between eagles and wind farms.

So what do you think? Is the price for increased "clean" electricity worth the cost of more eagle deaths? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.