Early last week, we sent the following letter to various authorities, decision-makers, relevant agencies, and the press regarding the proposal to build a massive industrial wind “farm” very close to Monhegan Island. I think it’s a terrible place for such a scheme, and Jeannette and I – having lost faith in the state’s environmental organizations – decided we had to do something about it and make our voice heard.
An excellent article appeared in this week’s edition of The Forecaster, our regional newspaper.
The 12/11 broadcast of WGME-13’s Evening News (Portland’s CBS affiliate) included this story.
I also had a good chat with a knowledgeable staffer from Senator King’s office. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of our effort to make a difference here.
December 2, 2013
Re: Monhegan Wind Project
To whom it may concern:
We are writing today in strong opposition to proposed industrial wind development in the Gulf of Maine off of MonheganIsland. This is a terrible location for a project that will likely result in a significant amount of avian mortality in a place that is internationally recognized for its value to migratory birds and is an internationally recognized destination for those seeking to see and enjoy these migrants.
Ask any birder or ornithologist where the greatest concentrations of migratory birds occur in Maine, and MonheganIsland will be at the top of everyone’s list. The quantity and diversity of migrant passerines (songbirds) in spring and fall is well documented, and can readily be seen by the quantity of birders that descend on the island in the spring and fall. Outside of the peak tourism season, birders provide an important economic input for the inns and restaurants on the island during the “shoulder season.” And while birders are valuable to the island of Monhegan, the island is absolutely invaluable to the birds themselves.
Thousands upon thousands of migrant passerines descend upon the island, especially during certain weather conditions. In fall, migrants from the north drift offshore on northwesterly winds and fan out across the Gulf of Maine. Some, like Blackpoll Warblers may launch directly offshore and not stop until they hit the West Indies. Others are crossing from Nova Scotia towards Maine or southern New England. In the spring, birds are returning to Nova Scotia, drifting over the ocean on developing cross winds, or overshooting land following a night of strong tailwinds. In other words, there is no “flyway” from point A to B, but a broad flood of birds spread across the sky during the night, as the vast majority of our passerines migrate exclusively at night. Come sunrise, birds seek land for safety, rest, and refueling. Isolate islands are critical to birds that don’t have the capability to make it to the mainland, especially during inclement weather.
Why birds migrate at night is not known for sure, but what we do know is that nocturnal migrants use the stars to aid in navigation. For millions of years, birds have navigated across vast and inhospitable stretches of water on their epic journeys between where they breed and where they spend the winter. Unfortunately, over the past half-century or so, our skies have become much less favorable for migrating birds. For reason also unknown, lighted structures (radio towers, buildings, and yes, wind turbines) can confuse birds, especially under cloudy conditions –and fog, which we know is frequent in the Gulf of Maine – and draw birds in, not unlike a moth to a porch light. Confused, they circle the light in an attempt to reorient or simply escape the halo of light. Unfortunately, in the process, many can collide with the structure, each other, or simply drop dead of exhaustion as their flight muscles are metabolized in a last-ditch effort to find safety.
Most lights in the sky kill birds. That is a fact. The more lighted structures there are the more birds will die. The more material that is surrounding those lights – such as guy wires or massive, spinning turbine blades – the more likely there will be a collision before a bird can regroup and escape the glow. When those lights are over water, the birds drop into the sea, where they are consumed by scavengers such as fish and gulls. We’ll never know the true death toll of lighted structures over water, as current guesstimates are simply extrapolations of land-based surveys based mostly on the fundamentally-flawed methodology of carcass searching. My own experience with carcass search trials offers me no reason for faith in the effectiveness of these estimates, so oft-quoted figures on bird mortality by wind turbines are likely a gross understatement.
As most post-construction surveys are suppressed as “proprietary information,” even when the surveys are designed to fail, concerned citizens are left to take the word of the wind power industry. I am sorry, but that’s not good enough for me. Repeated denial of a significant bird mortality issue shows that the wind industry refuses to recognize the conservation implications of their development. Instead of addressing the concern and working to minimize the threat via lighting requirements or proper citing, the concern from respected ornithologists and the general public are ignored and drowned out by unfulfilled claims of “green energy,” empty promises, or lost in the debate of what wind farms look like.
Since the most vocal, and often most-well-funded, critics of wind power developments are often those who don’t want to look at them, the wind industry looks towards remote areas, especially those with small populations that can put up a fight. With claims of all sorts of economic returns, rural communities offer less resistance than more developed areas where the power is most needed.
So-called “offshore” development is seen by fewer people, and some see this as a reason to not oppose these equally-destructive proposals. These near-shore developments (if they were truly so far offshore as to not be seen by people and to minimize threats to wildlife, the cost of construction and transmission lines are prohibitive) are indeed visible from land, especially at night when those bird-killing lights will be readily apparent. I cannot imagine standing at the island’s south end, seeing those slow blinking lights pulsating in the not-so-distance, imagining how many birds are slamming into blades, consuming their own bodies until they cannot fly, and plunge to their final deaths.
Here, in one of the greatest concentrations of birds in the Gulf of Maine, and one that attracts many hundreds of birders each spring and fall, here is where a massive wind development is proposed. So much for minimizing the costs. While no electricity production is truly green, there are methods and locations for those methods where benefits outweigh their economic and environmental costs. This is not one of those places.
The sense of place that makes MonheganIsland so unique, the quantities of migrant birds that find shelter here, and the volume of tourists of all kinds drawn to this island make it a place worth protecting. What will happen when migrant birds, heading towards the island or other land refuges instead find themselves confused and disoriented in a maze of towers and spinning blades? How many birds will die? How will we even know? One thing is for certain however, no matter how destructive these things are, they don’t come down once they go up.
Meanwhile, new transmission lines will be strung through some of the stunning landscapes in the peninsulas of Mid-Coast Maine. Additional forest fragmentation and habitat loss will occur. And these transmission lines themselves will kill many more birds, especially iconic species such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Great Blue Herons. In dense fog, birds of all shapes and sizes will collide with the wires and their support towers. Many of our largest birds simply cannot quickly evade a powerline that they only see at the very last minute. Common Loons traversing the peninsulas during their journey to and from Maine’s lakes and ponds will strike these wires as well, especially where they cross channels and bays. Meanwhile, a significant amount of electricity will be lost during the transmission (as is the case with all high-tension transmission lines), of the electricity being generated by these projects off in the distance, making the megawatt promises of the wind developers even further from reality.
Another erroneous assertion put forth about near-shore wind development is that they won’t kill raptors or bats. That too is untrue. There are migratory bats that cross the Gulf of Maine, and the risks that wind turbines pose to them could be substantial, especially as we struggle with precipitous declines of these critical pest control agents. Migrating raptors (birds of prey) which are recognized as threatened by wind development on the mainland also occurs in the Gulf of Maine, especially Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and American Kestrels. In fact, the largest concentrations of Peregrine Falcons observed in Maine occur on MonheganIsland each fall.
Maybe I, and countless other ornithologists and birders are wrong. Maybe they won’t kill vast numbers of birds. Unfortunately, a lack of transparency and a clear and decisive unwillingness to address and mitigate these concerns presents me with little reason to trust companies such as First Wind. In the rush to capitalize on subsidies and a mostly-favorable political climate, the true costs and concerns are swept under the rug or ignored completely.
This project cannot and will not be ignored. There is too much at risk, for far too little of a reward. Instead of finding the best locations for wind development with the fewest risks, here we find a scheme to put a massive project right in one of the largest concentrations of migrant birds, and a short distance away from one of the most special places in Maine. And of course, the refusal to admit the bird-death problem means we cannot go forward and work together to use the best available technology to minimize the problem, such as using lighting colors and strobe duration that have been proven to reduce bird collisions. At the absolute very least, we demand that any lighted structure, from test turbine to permanent structures that are to be constructed off of Monhegan Island be equipped with lighting configurations that have been found to be less hazardous.
This massive project is too big, too costly, and far too destructive to be tolerated. As a wildlife tour operator, bird conservationists, and avian ecologists, we must stridently oppose this project. It is simply in the wrong place, and actually maximizes risk for much less benefit than is promised.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Derek and Jeannette Lovitch
Freeport Wild Bird Supply
541 Route One, Suite 10