In hopes of increasing wind energy production in New Mexico while protecting wildlife and habitat, a coalition of energy companies, conservation groups and government agencies have come up with recommendations.
The group this week launched a website to list the "best management practices" for designing and siting wind facilities while protecting bats, raptors and other birds. The coalition says its recommendations are based on science but aren't binding on any of the energy companies operating in the state.
The New Mexico Wind and Wildlife Collaborative involves eight energy companies, seven conservation groups and several agencies such as the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public Service Company of New Mexico, First Wind, Audubon New Mexico and Hawks Aloft are among the groups that met over the last two years to hammer out recommendations for wind farms.
"We were trying to create a process where birds would be considered in siting not just wind facilities, but all renewable energy sources such as solar," said Christopher Ratay of Playa Lakes Joint Venture, a bird conservation group that helped facilitate the meetings. "Even though there are no state or federal regulations governing it, wind facilities want to try and avoid problems."
Industry and conservation groups had to understand each other's positions to reach agreements, Ratay said. Industry needed to make sure it can build wind facilities and transmit the electricity at a reasonable cost to consumers. Conservationists want wildlife and habitat protected.
While wind energy is considered a "green" renewable source of electricity, the facilities still can harm wildlife and habitat. The height of wind turbines, the design and length of the blades and the location of the towers can all impact birds and bats. Wind turbine pads and the roads to reach them fragment wildlife habitat, a special problem if the facilities are located in an area with threatened and endangered species.
Newer wind turbines and blades kill fewer birds than older ones. Still, if wind turbines are placed in the flight path of endangered raptors and migratory birds, the deaths of even a few create a problem, according to biologists.
Industry needs to site wind facilities where there's plenty of wind and transmission lines are close.
"We wanted to make sure any guidelines put out would be achievable but would satisfy all the parties," said Matt Desmond of First Wind, a wind-energy development company.
The group developed best management practices for 12 wildlife species and for critical habitat such as playas.
What remains to be seen is how many wind-energy companies will follow the recommendations.
For more information about the collaboration and to see best management practices, visit www.pljv.org/windandwildlife/nm/nmwwc.php
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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