Wind Energy is a relatively young industry which makes it difficult to anticipate potential impacts, especially regarding bird and bat mortality. Initially, state and federal agency guidelines for the surveys, such as those from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, required extensive data collection making them expensive, time consuming tasks. But according to Stantec Consulting Services, early consultation, proper project siting, and asking the right questions can help minimize effort and costs, while meeting industry and agency goals.
State and federal guidance recommends conducting a series of standard pre-construction efforts to evaluate existing use of the site and potential risks to birds and bats. This includes habitat surveys, nocturnal radar studies, raptor migration studies, acoustic bat surveys, and breeding bird counts. Project approval can depend on pre-construction survey results. Having conducted about 934 acoustic bat, nocturnal radar, and raptor migration surveys combined, Stantec says its biologists were able to re-evaluate current methods and technology, and use that information to help guide updates to state and federal agency guidelines in the northeast.
In the early 2000s, to follow all of the recommendations of state and federal guidelines, the standard pre-construction surveys carried costs from $5,000 to $220,000 each, totaling almost a half a million dollars to complete all five, and did not include rare, threatened, or endangered-species surveys. However, as the industry matured and more information was collected, refined methods were achieved though close coordination with agencies. Since the early 2000s, coordination with the agencies and innovative technological solutions have helped reduce the costs for the standard pre-construction surveys by 66%.
“Guidance from a government agency is often conservative by design,” says Adam Gravel, Associate and Certified Wildlife Biologist with Stantec Consulting. “An agency’s role is to ensure impacts are minimized or avoided, not to develop an efficient monitoring protocol.” Flexibility in guidelines created through information sharing lets the industry innovate while addressing stakeholders overall goals. Determining what minimization measures are effective determines the level of monitoring necessary.
As concerned third parties, consultants help balance the interests of both industry and agency, and come up with cost-effective methods that provide the information that addresses concerns, says Gravel. For example, three of the surveys below show how extensive data collection and agency coordination allowed modifications to survey methods, ultimately lowering the cost without losing needed information.
Nocturnal radar surveys
Nocturnal radar surveys monitor bird migration patterns at night. Early agency guidelines requested extensive data collection though nocturnal radar surveys. This included 45 nights in the spring (April 15 to May 31) and 60 nights in the fall (August 15 to October 15). This survey required complex field set up and operation and was labor intensive for both data collection and analysis.
Using multiple datasets collected at a number of projects following the full protocol (45 nights in spring and 60 nights in fall). Stantec conducted a comparative analysis the full datasets by using 1000 replicates of 20 and 30-night subsamples. The data analysis determined that a significantly reduced sampling effort produced the same results. In some locations, state and federal agency guidelines were adjusted resulting in a 55% reduction in effort from 45 or 60 nights to 20 nights. In addition, Stantec improved its technology so that radar data collection was automated and resulted in a 64% cost reduction. What’s more, agencies now less frequently require nocturnal radar surveys.
A 20-night nocturnal radar survey achieves the same results as a 45-night survey. This reduction in effort leads to a 64% reduction is costs.
Acoustic bat surveys
Acoustic bat surveys require recording and analyzing echolocation calls. It often uses AnaBat detectors that were not designed for unattended sampling for long periods. This was mainly due to the limited power supply and data storage, and lack of waterproofing. Another issue was collecting data at turbine heights. To solve the problems, a waterproof housing and power supply were created for AnaBat detectors. Titley Scientific also developed the AnaBat/Zcaim which has a compact flash card for internal data storage. These advances along with improved technology reduced the cost of acoustic bat surveys by about 61%.
Raptor migration surveys
The primary purpose of the raptor migration survey is to determine the routes and focal areas of migrant raptors. Early state agency guidance called for labor intensive raptor migration surveys five days a week, for a total of 30 days in the spring and 60 days in fall. After collecting years of data, agencies learned the importance of using existing information, resulting in less effort. The shorter survey dropped the cost by 70%.
Asking the right questions, and working with the industry and agencies collaboratively helps everyone learn together and address impacts. In many cases this relationship helps bring together information from data collection or technological advances that can be used to refine guidelines as necessary and minimize impacts and project uncertainty, says Gravel. WPE
Filed Under: News, Policy