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New York’s renewable energy regulations neglect the impact of birds

New York published a draft ordinance in September 2020 to implement the Accelerated Growth of Renewable Energy and Nonprofit Act, which went into effect earlier this year (April 2020). 25 conservation groups, including ABC, expressed concern about these draft regulations, which do little to address the significant negative impacts of renewable energy projects on birds.

The groups propose sensible solutions to address some of the main shortcomings in the regulation and to better protect birds. By incorporating the changes recommended by these bird conservation experts, the state could set a positive precedent for the green development of renewable energies. To achieve this, however, major revisions to the current draft regulation would be required.

The Accelerated Growth of Renewable Energy and Nonprofit Act aims to streamline the approval process for wind and solar energy projects as part of the state’s approach to achieving its renewable energy goals. Among other things, the law established a new Renewable Energy Siting Office (ORES) tasked with developing and overseeing the process for developing renewable energy projects.

Golden Eagle, Copyright Ron Marshall, from the Surfbirds Galleries

In September, the ORES published draft ordinances to implement the law. “The implementation of this important new regulation has come a long way,” says Joel Merriman, ABC’s campaign leader for Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “Unfortunately, bird protection is hardly taken into account in the draft regulation. We fully support the development of renewable energies as part of a broader strategy to combat climate change. However, this must be done in an environmentally conscious manner. This also includes looking after our birds, and these regulations have so far not been sufficient in this area. “

The development of wind energy is an important element in combating climate change, but it does not come without environmental costs. ABC estimates that more than 500,000 birds are killed annually in wind turbine collisions in the United States. Given the projected expansion of the industry, that number is expected to rise to more than 1.4 million per year by 2030. Birds are also killed by power lines that are installed to connect wind equipment to the power grid and still others are displaced by the development of equipment. Some types, such as Golden eagles, such as golden eagles, are more prone to turbine collisions and, due to slower breeding rates, these birds are less able to recover from losses.

“When the law was considered, we raised serious concerns,” says Merriman. “Now that we’ve seen the draft regulation implementing the law, it’s worse than we feared.”

The draft ordinances are linked to uniform standards and conditions for the choice of location and planning of projects. They lack adequate protection for birds, including appropriate project locations, field studies and other steps that, if stipulated by law, would potentially lead to an environmentally balanced approach.

“The draft regulation does not leave enough time for necessary field studies for wildlife,” says Merriman. “They also drastically reduce the possibility of public and expert input in the planning process and ignore considerations for the majority of bird species. Worst of all, there is no influence on where projects are located. This is the most important aspect in minimizing the impact on wildlife. It is for this reason that we have worked with other affected conservation organizations to clearly articulate the issues with this proposed process and how some of them could be addressed. “

A total of 25 nature conservation organizations have signed a letter to the state outlining the numerous shortcomings in the draft regulation. “It is possible to work around some of the biggest problems so that the negative effects on birds are minimized,” says Merriman. “For example, if wildlife field studies are required prior to a pre-application meeting, in many cases there may be enough information to make wise planning decisions. This is how things work in the wind industry already – it’s not a burden on developers and it leads to better results. “

Merriman continues, “It’s hard to understand: In other arenas, New York has done great things for birds. The state can maintain this obligation by making some improvements to the draft regulations, e.g. B. Setbacks to common sense in areas of high biodiversity and some already standardized field studies to inform about project planning. It is important that we balance the need for renewable energy development with protecting our endangered bird populations. “

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