Wind farm project delayed

Published 5:18 pm Thursday, June 14, 2012

Construction of a wind farm proposed for eastern Beaufort County will be delayed to give the company planning it more time to perform additional studies on the project’s effect on the area’s bird population.

Thursday, a statement was released by that company, Invenergy, indicating the studies will delay the project beyond the planned 2013 start date.

“Invenergy LLC has concluded that additional studies are needed to determine the impact of the Pantego Wind Farm project in Beaufort County on the region’s bird population,” the statement reads.

“We are confident that a full, fair and factual study will demonstrate that the Pantego Wind Farm will protect and conserve the region’s wildlife, bird population and natural resources,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, a company spokesman said the delay does not mean Invenergy is abandoning the project.

“Invenergy is still committed to the Pantego site,” said Gary Pearce, a project spokesman.

Invenergy’s announcement of the delay follows about a month a preliminary estimate by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the wind farm could kill about four to 20 bald eagles a year. The preliminary report also noted eight active bald eagle nests in the vicinity of the project area.

That number of predicted bald eagle kills, or “takes,” is based on just five months of bird counts in the county and could prove abnormally high, Fish and Wildlife Service officials have said.

They indicated the preliminary data is inconclusive and the death estimates could be a fluke, and said they would ask Invenergy to collect data through at least one full year or longer on eagles and migratory waterfowl in the area.

Bald eagles are active in the proposed wind farm area because of readily available food sources such as fish-breeding ponds and hog-carcass disposal areas.

In March, the N.C. Utilities Commission approved plans by Pantego Wind Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Invenergy, to build an 80-megawatt wind farm on 11,000 acres near Terra Ceia and Pantego.

In that ruling, the commission required Invenergy to submit bird and bat protection and monitoring plans, prepared in consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service, at least 45 days before beginning turbine construction, among other monitoring requirements.

It also required Invenergy to notify the commission within 48 hours of the discovery of either five or more dead or injured migratory birds or bats or one or more dead or injured bald or golden eagles.

While bald eagles are no longer considered an endangered species, they are protected by the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act which would require Invenergy to seek a permit allowing a set number of bald eagle kills.

But a condition of that permit would require Invenergy to show that it had taken all feasible actions to avoid those eagle kills, including considering other appropriate sites for the project.

The lawyer for one environmental group with concerns about the project said Thursday the bald eagle numbers “cast an entirely new light” on it.
“It’s a recognition that there are significant remaining issues and obstacles to moving forward with the project on this site,” said Derb Carter, director of the North Carolina and South Carolina office of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The statement by Invenergy does not address the bald eagle findings directly.

“While we have differences with the (s)ervice regarding the project’s impact, we do agree that additional studies are needed,” the statement reads.

“We will continue to work with the Service and with other stakeholders to gather all of the relevant scientific data needed to evaluate potential impacts to wildlife. We are committed to working cooperatively with all the federal, state and local agencies involved. And we are committed to avoiding, minimizing and mitigating potential impacts to wildlife and natural resources at all of our wind farms,” it reads.