Wind farms are largely thought of as environmentally-friendly and sustainable sources of energy. In a world that has been tasked with addressing the growing concerns of both climate change and sustainability as a whole, the wind farm offers itself up as an option that utilizes natural renewable resources without many of the climate and environment-affecting downsides of other mainstay energy sources.
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It may come as a surprise, then, that a recently proposed wind farm project near Lake Eerie in Ohio has been met with resistance from local wildlife groups. The project, which aims to construct 73 wind turbines in Eerie and Huron counties in Ohio, has been particularly troubling to Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Black Swamp lies north of the proposed project site and is a vocal voice against the widespread acceptance of wind turbines as a “harmless” solution to energy and environmental woes.
This recent project, the “Emerson Creek Wind Farm Project,” has been sent to the Ohio supreme court. Amongst the concerns expected to be discussed is the fact that Black Swamp Bird Observatory is host to one of the largest birdwatching events in the country, “The Biggest Week in American Birding,” which draws over 100,000 annual visitors to the vicinity of the proposed wind farm. The event is held on account of the incredible diversity of avian wildlife found in the region. Black Swamp Bird Observatory fears that the proposed windfarm could threaten that.
This upcoming court case comes on the heels of the approval of project “Icebreaker,” which is proposed to be the first freshwater offshore wind farm project in the United States. Icebreaker was initially approved under stringent conditions set in place to protect wildlife. These conditions, including a requirement that the turbines be powered off at night for eight months of the year to protect birds from collisions, have since been lifted. Lake Eerie is a globally important bird hotspot which hosts a wide array of species, both year-round and migrants.
Studies indicate that wind turbine collisions may be responsible for as many as 1.17 million bird deaths per year. Many deaths go undetected, so exact numbers are scarce. Furthermore, the construction of wind farms requires open space, far enough from major human habitations, to function properly. This means that, like these Ohio projects, large wildlife habitats are often sacrificed for the construction of wind farms. The effect that this may have on bird populations is impossible to accurately estimate.
In the course of protecting and preserving our planet, the issue of the “greater good” is an inevitable one. Many supporters of these wind farm projects suggest that the impact of renewable energy upon the looming threat of climate change is so significant that damage to local bird populations is a worthy sacrifice; in short, they claim that the turbines will do more good for the environment than harm. The fact remains, though, that bird populations throughout the United States have been sharply declining for decades. The loss of local populations would be a major blow to birders and nature-lovers, but they will likely have much wider and more unpredictable ramifications. Whether a true solution can be found remains to be seen.
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