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For the birds (and the bats): 8 ways wind power companies are trying to prevent deadly collisions

birds and turbines
Pembina Institute

Hundreds of thousands of birds and bats are killed by wind turbines in the U.S. each year, including some protected species such as the golden eagle and the Indiana bat. That's only a small fraction of the hundreds of millions killed by buildings, pesticides, fossil-fuel power plants, and other human causes, but it's still worrying -- especially as wind power is experiencing record growth.

Both the wind industry and the federal government have been under intense public scrutiny over the issue in recent weeks. In late November, the Obama administration fined Duke Energy Renewables $1 million for illegally killing birds, the first time a wind company has been prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Then, just two weeks later, the administration announced a controversial new rule that will allow energy companies to get 30-year permits for non-intentional eagle deaths at wind farms. The feds emphasize that the new rule requires additional conservation measures, but it still angered many conservationists.

The pressure is now on for wind energy companies to reduce bird and bat mortality. Lindsay North, outreach manager for the American Wind Energy Association, which lobbies for the industry, says wind developers are committed to “doing our best to try to have the lowest impact on birds.”

The industry is collaborating with wildlife researchers on promising technologies and approaches that are already being field-tested, and on some experimental and even far-fetched ideas that could help reduce mortality in the long term.

“I am very optimistic we can make significant progress,” said biologist Taber Allison, director of research at the American Wind Wildlife Institute, a nonprofit partnership of wind companies, scientists, and environmental organizations such as the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.

Here are eight things the industry is trying or considering in an effort to reduce bird and bat mortality.

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Tar-sands oil could be coming soon to New England

activists with signs
Protect South Portland

A citizens group in South Portland, Maine, is hoping to beat back an effort by Big Oil to pipe tar-sands crude through their city. The group gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that would stymie oil companies' plans, and now the activists are going door-to-door to convince their neighbors to vote for it.

South Portland is a relatively quiet place where major news doesn’t happen often, and lobstermen and clammers still make a living on the water.

When Vanessa Capelluti and her husband moved to their dream home on Casco Bay here a year ago, they didn’t know that oil companies had plans for this area too. Shortly after settling in, Capelluti found out about ExxonMobil and Enbridge’s quiet efforts to reverse aging oil pipelines [PDF] across Canada and swaths of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, aiming to pump heavy tar-sands crude from Alberta to the East Coast. The oil would travel right under the street in front of her home and on to the town’s shipyard, where it would be ferried out to international markets.

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Fracking boom could lead to housing bust

sign: "For Sale: No Fracking Allowed"
thinkpanama

When it comes to the real estate market in Bradford County, Pa., where 62,600 residents live above the Marcellus Shale, nothing is black and white, says Bob Benjamin, a local broker and certified appraiser. There aren’t exactly “fifty shades of grey,” he says, but residential mortgage lending here is an especially murky situation.

When Benjamin fills out an appraisal for a lender, he has to note if there is a fracked well or an impoundment lake on or near the property. “I’m having to explain a lot of things when I give the appraisal to the lender,” he says. “They are asking questions about the well quite often.”

And national lenders are becoming more cautious about underwriting mortgages for properties near fracking, even ones they would have routinely financed in the past, Benjamin says.

That's a real problem in Bradford County, where 93 percent of the acreage is now under lease to a gas company.