One of Maine’s top wildlife advocacy groups says there’s plenty of room in the state to accommodate animal habitat and wind energy development.
In a report released Wednesday night, Falmouth-based Maine Audubon found that of the 1.1 million acres in the state where there’s enough wind to justify turbines, 933,000 acres don’t overlap with sensitive natural areas and could be developed with little impact to Maine’s wildlife.
About 45 percent — 418,000 acres — of the space with both adequate wind and low wildlife impact is found in the state’s expedited permitting areas designated for wind projects, stated the report written by wildlife biologist Susan Gallo.
The study comes as wind energy continues to receive steady attention in Maine, with the Board of Environmental Protection on Thursday scheduled to hear an appeal of an approved wind farm slated for Hancock County and some lawmakers still upset over the recent decision by Norwegian energy giant Statoil to drop its offshore wind plans here.
Late last month, the organization Environment Maine issued its own report on wind energy, finding that Maine generated a New England-best 884,000 megawatt-hours of wind power in 2012, an amount that displaced nearly 535,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel plants.
On Wednesday night, Maine Audubon released its 34-page report on wind energy’s potential conflict with the state’s wildlife, and found that — for the most part — it doesn’t.
The organization stressed that each proposed development site be reviewed individually for possible impacts on bird and animal species, but that in a general sense, there is a lot of room in Maine for wind farms to be erected without intruding on sensitive habitats.
As a result, the report stressed, there should be no reason why wind development takes place where it significantly affects wildlife.
“We recommend that any land-based wind development in the mountainous areas of northern and western Maine and along our coast be carefully studied,” the report stated, in part. “These regions stand out as areas with a lot of wind and wildlife resource overlap.”
Given current technology, Maine Audubon reports that the state would need to see wind development on approximately 15 percent of the windy acreage that does not overlap with wildlife resources in order to meet state goals of reaching the 3,000-megawatt capacity of land-based wind energy by 2030.
That production would provide power for between 675,000 and 900,000 homes, and would entail the construction of 600 more wind turbines, the report concluded.
Opponents of the wind energy buildout in Maine, including the group Friends of Maine Mountains, have argued that the turbines blemish the state’s pristine mountain ranges and are not as effective as other renewable energy sources, such as hydropower.
In its report Wednesday, Maine Audubon acknowledged the concerns of wind power opponents and stated its findings did not eliminate the need for site-by-site reviews that take those concerns into account.
“The location and siting of wind developments is a complex issue, and while there is a broad array of important concerns — impacts to the local economy, tourism, outdoor recreation, regional power supplies, local residents, and scenic views — Maine Audubon has always focused its concern on wildlife and habitat,” the report stated.
Audubon’s Position on Wind Power
Summary: Audubon strongly supports properly-sited wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming. Wind power facilities should be planned, sited and operated to minimize negative impacts on bird and wildlife populations.
Rationale: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has clearly stated that the impacts of climate change are here now and will get worse. Scientists have found that climate change has already affected half of the world’s wild species’ breeding, distribution, abundance and survival rates. By mid-century, the IPCC predicts that climate change may contribute to the extinction of 20-30 percent of all species on earth.
In order to prevent species extinctions and other catastrophic impacts of climate change, scientists say we must reduce global warming emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050. Reducing pollution from fossil fuels to this degree will require rapidly expanding energy and fuel efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuels, and changes in land use, agriculture, and transportation. To avoid catastrophe, we need to do all of these.
Wind power is an important part of the strategy to combat global warming. Wind power is currently the most economically competitive form of renewable energy. As of December 2011, it provides nearly 47,000 megawatts of power in the United States, enough to provide electricity for more than 12 million households. With the current transmission infrastructure, the Department of Energy estimates that wind has the potential to generate 20 percent of the nation’s energy. Every megawatt-hour produced by wind energy avoids an average of 1,220 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. If the United States obtains 20 percent of its electricity from wind power by 2020, it will reduce global warming emissions equivalent to taking 71 million cars off the road or planting 104 million acres of trees. Expanding wind power instead of fossil fuels also avoids the wildlife and human health impacts of oil and gas drilling, coal mining and fossil fuel burning.
Protecting Birds and Wildlife: While Audubon strongly supports wind power and recognizes it will not be without some impact, production and transmission facilities must be planned, sited and operated in concert with other actions needed to minimize and mitigate their impacts on birds and other wildlife populations. Several federal and state laws require this and the long-term sustainability of the wind industry depends on it. Wind power facilities impact birds from direct collisions with turbines and related facilities, such as power lines. Wind power facilities can also degrade or destroy habitat, cause disturbance and displacement, and disrupt important ecological links. These impacts can be avoided or significantly reduced, however, with proper siting, operation and mitigation.
Audubon supports the adoption of federal and state guidelines on the study, siting, operation and mitigation of wind power. Guidelines should provide developers, permitting agencies and conservation groups with the legal, technical and practical steps needed to minimize impacts on birds and other wildlife. Guidelines should provide the following essential elements:
- Minimum pre-permitting study requirements and guidance on study methods, frequency and acceptable data sources to ensure that wind power is sited in appropriate locations
- Clearly delineated siting criteria that designate areas where wind power should not be allowed, such as Important Bird Areas, major migratory corridors, wilderness areas, national parks, wildlife refuges, and other sensitive habitat such as wetlands and riparian corridors
- Clearly defined monitoring and mitigation requirements in permits, with periodic reviews and requirements for adaptive management if impacts significantly exceed levels allowed by permit
- Guidance on cumulative population impacts assessment and mitigation.
Audubon also encourages wind developers and permitting agencies to consult with wildlife experts, including Audubon staff and local chapters, to help inform study and siting decisions.
 Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, published on April 6, 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at http://www.ipcc.ch. People from over 130 countries contributed to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report over the previous 6 years. These people included more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors.
 Camille Parmesan and Gary Yohe, University of Texas at Austin, as cited in Audubon November-December 2007.