Large-scale Wind Energy Development on Lake Ontario Shoreline Poses a Threat to Millions of Migratory Birds
When it comes to wind energy development, siting is everything and a suitable site is the most effective form of mitigation. In its 2007 position paper on Wind Energy, the Rochester Birding Association supports wind energy as an alternative to fossil fuel power generation, provided that the facilities do not cause undue harm to nesting and migrating birds.
In 2014 RBA became aware of a wind farm proposal for the Ontario Lakeshore in the towns of Yates and Somerset. Unfortunately, abundant data exists to show that the APEX Lighthouse Wind Project, due to its siting within 5 miles of the lakefront, will cause significant risk to migrating birds.
RBA is working with a coalition of other conservation groups* to question and encourage Apex to follow the USFWS and NYSDEC guidelines to accurately census birds and bats and share that data. We will continue to point out that within 6 miles of the Lake Ontario shoreline is a poor location with unreasonably high risks to migrating birds.
The south shore of Lake Ontario, extending for at least six miles from the lake, has long been known as a major migratory route for millions of raptors and neo-tropical birds, including many species of conservation concern, including Rusty Blackbirds and Short-eared Owls. These migrants proceed along the southern shore of the lake and sometimes directly across the Lake as well. The area is also an important breeding ground for declining grassland birds, such as Northern Harrier, Upland Sandpiper, Sedge Wren and Grasshopper Sparrow, which could experience displacement or reproductive failure in the presence of large turbines. Our ecologically-important birds and bats should not be collateral damage in our war against climate change.
* Coalition groups involved in evaluating this proposal include Save Ontario Shores, Braddock Bay Bird Observatory, Genesee Valley Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon NY, Braddock Bay Raptor Research, and Old Bird, Inc., and American Bird Conservancy.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Get in touch with Conservation Chair Amy Kahn, we especially need help getting information in the local news. There are other ways to help as well including independent scientific documentation.
And please stay tuned for conservation alerts that require citizen input.
- The APEX Lighthouse wind farm was cited in American Bird Conservancy’s article, Ten of the Worst-sited Wind Energy Projects for Birds.
- Location: Niagara and Orleans County, New York near the towns of Somerset and Yates (Apex Clean Energy)
- Why listed: Vast numbers of migratory songbirds and numbers of raptors rely on this area; close to breeding habitat for declining grassland birds. This proposed location on the southern shore of Lake Ontario boasts one of the greatest bird migrations in North America.
- Up to 71 turbines are planned for an area along the south shore of Lake Ontario.
- These 570 to 620 foot tall turbines will extend 5 miles inland from the lake along a 12.5-mile stretch.
- Vast numbers of songbirds and raptors concentrate within six miles of the shoreline during spring and fall of each year. This area also has pockets of key habitat for sensitive grassland birds, which could be displaced by the wind turbines. Federally protected Bald Eagles from a nearby wildlife refuge are also at risk. USFWS has expressed serious concern about this project, warning the developer that this is an area of extremely high avian use. However, the developer appears to be going ahead with its plans, conducting its own studies, disputing previous work done by other researchers, and ignoring the concerns of local residents.
Great Lakes Avian Radar Technical Report Niagara, Genesee, Wayne and Jefferson Counties, New York shows by APEX Lighthouse Wind Farm is a Bad Idea.
The Fish and Wildlife Service released a study that shows HEAVY use of the area, particularly by nighttime migrants, and specifically states that due to the birds shifting altitudes under various environmental conditions, the threat of collisions with wind turbines is significant in these areas.
Excerpts from report:
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Great Lakes Avian Radar Technical Report Niagara, Genesee, Wayne and Jefferson Counties, New York (Spring 2013 Season) Biological Technical Publication, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Midwest Region
Funding Provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, BTP-R3012-2016
The general patterns along the shorelines of Lake Ontario reveal that these areas are used heavily by nocturnal migrants during the spring migration. In the early part of migration nights, many of the birds and bats were leaving the shoreline area and crossing over Lake Ontario if the conditions were favorable. Later in the night, and on nights when conditions were not favorable to crossing, we often saw migrants moving parallel to the lakeshore as others arrived from inland areas to join them. This behavior indicated that migrants are active while they are waiting for the right times and conditions to cross or circumnavigate an obstacle such as the Great Lakes. The movement of migrants along the shoreline implies that a wind energy facility or communication tower constructed in these areas would be encountered by both birds actively migrating across the lake or along the lakeshore and those moving between stopover habitats.
A close look at the different biological time periods also reveals information about the importance of the shoreline area. At many of the sites, the high levels of dusk and dawn activity may represent birds and bats leaving their stopover habitat to move on at dusk and new migrants moving in to land in the stopover habitat at dawn after migrating into the area at night or coming in from flying over the water. Consequently, impacts to the shoreline area from development, habitat loss, or other factors may have impacts on all parts of the populations of a wide variety of bird and bat species.
Migrants will also change altitudes depending on environmental conditions, and thus targets in altitude bands that are just above the rotor-swept zone may also be at risk of collision with turbines. In addition, our analysis only shows the rotor-swept zone for turbines that were in planning stages at the time of the study. Wind turbines are being constructed to higher altitudes (Eller 2015), with larger rotor-swept zones extending into the altitude bands just above where turbine blades currently reach, which may impact more migrants (Figure 35).
Our data demonstrate that the shoreline areas of Lake Ontario are important for migrating birds and bats. We have identified behaviors that concentrate migrants along the shoreline, demonstrated that these behaviors occur regularly throughout the season, and established that migrants are flying at altitudes that place them at risk of collision with current or future wind energy development in the area. The importance of shoreline areas, as revealed by our study, highlight the need to avoid these areas as migration corridors as recommended in the Service’s Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines (USFWS 2012).