When efforts to live in an ecologically-minded manner begin infringing on the welfare of wildlife, the right choices become quite difficult to make. That is the problem facing wind power proponents on the Hawaiian islands of Maui and Oahu. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in the passed six years, almost 200 winged creatures, some of which are endangered, have lost their lives by flying into the blades of wind turbines.
Some of the slain include, four Hawaiian petrels, a large ocean bird with a small range for breeding, 20 Nene geese, the official state bird and 25 Hawaiian Hoary bats, the state’s only native land mammal. An endangered Blackburn sphinx moth, once thought to be extinct and only found in Hawaii, was reported at Auwahi Wind. These numbers are quite troubling to conservationists who watch these populations closely.
First Wind, a wind turbine operator based out of Boston, is the first company in Hawaii to implement a plan for habitat conservation at its’ Kaheawa Wind Power 1 location on Maui. Through their efforts, they are able to identify possible species that could be impacted by the presence and operation of the turbines. They can then suggest ways of mitigating those impacts in an effort to increase numbers.
First Wind has provided predator-free homes for Newell shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels. They have also installed 100 meters that track movements made by the hoary bats. This way, they are able to predict their activities, thereby knowing when to have certain turbines shut off.
As an operator of four wind farms, First Wind has allotted over $6 million for their efforts. The company has made their concerns clear. However, many locals are still displeased with the loss of life. Some have suggested perhaps a moratorium would be in order; that the region has reached its’ limits in regards to wind power. With so many endangered winged creatures meeting their demise due to the wind power industry, Hawaii may need to consider some alternatives.
Though it is completely against the law to kill any endangered/protected species, wind farms have some wiggle room. The USFWS has permits that allow for what is called an “incidental take.” In 1982, an amendment was made to the Endangered Species Act that made it legal for permit holders to kill a listed species as long as the activity that caused said death was legal. There are also certain waivers that the wind power companies can sign. These loopholes are why the islands of Maui and Oahu are experiencing so many unnecessary deaths amongst their flying animals.
Wind power is a wonderful source of energy. The ridges along the Hawaiian islands provide a perfect opportunity for the implementation of this renewable energy. What needs to be decided is how willing are the citizens to allow for endangering already protected species in the name of wind power. Is there a way for both the Nene goose and wind turbines to co-exist without numbers of the bird being diminished? Perhaps through greater mitigation efforts, Hawaii’s winged creatures will not long be endangered by the presence of wind power.
by Stacy Lamy