Wind farms mull radar detectors to stop bird deaths

Source: E&E • Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wind farms are considering the use of radar units and experimental telemetry systems that would switch off turbines when birds were detected nearby.

Wind turbines have been at the center of a conservation controversy as birds from the critically endangered California condors to the federally protected golden eagles have been killed by the blades.

“The greatest threat to migrating birds in my lifetime is unfolding in those mountains,” said Jesse Grantham, former California condor coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “As for condors, the strikes are inevitable. They travel together when a food source appears, so a single turbine blade could take out a lot of them in one swing.”

But radar systems are costly and offer no guarantee they will work. For one, they would have to differentiate between the behaviors of different species. While condors soar thousands of feet high, golden eagles swoop fast and close to the ground, and migrating songbirds fly low. The San Diego Zoo is developing a telemetry system that would provide real-time data on California condors outfitted with transmitters. The system would then automatically shut down turbines if a condor flew into a striking range.

One potential customer for such a detection system is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The department’s wind tree farm is under federal investigation after the discovery of eight golden eagle carcasses at its site (Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, May 28). — JE