Wind Turbines Deadly for Bald Eagles and Songbirds, but Could Benefit Region, Ohio Supreme Court Is Told

By Janice Hisle
Janice Hisle
Janice Hisle
Janice Hisle writes on a variety of topics including the First Amendment and the youth transgender movement. Before joining The Epoch Times she worked for more than two decades as a reporter for newspapers in Ohio and authored several books. A graduate of Kent State University's journalism program, she embraces "old-school" journalism with a modern twist. You can reach Janice at:
February 8, 2023Updated: February 8, 2023

Birdwatching is such a big deal along Ohio’s Lake Erie shore, 100,000 fans flock to a springtime festival in Ottawa County called The Biggest Week in American Birding.

That’s one reason why a proposal to build a wind-turbine farm, with whirring blades that kill birds, has been so hotly debated in nearby Erie and Huron counties.

Despite the opposition, a state board gave Firelands Wind LLC the go-ahead, citing few negative effects on residents and positive benefits for the economy and electrical power system. Not satisfied with that decision, 19 residents appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which is now weighing the fate of the project.

The case represents the latest example of a project touted as “green,” intended to benefit the environment. Yet it is facing opposition from environmentally minded people.

In a Feb. 8 hearing, the residents’ lawyer, Jack Van Kley, told the justices: “Firelands has chosen to cite its wind turbine facility in a uniquely bad location—in a migratory pathway, towards one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the world.”

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A warbler is released from the ringing hut after being recorded on a private reserve in East Sussex in Rye, United Kingdom, on Aug. 21, 2013. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Opponents of the project include the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, which has 17,000 members in Oak Harbor, Ohio. That group launched the birdwatching festival; its visitors infuse $40 million to $90 million into the region’s economy, court records say.

The northwest Ohio area has been dubbed “the warbler capital of the world,” because many rare species traverse the area as they journey from South America to breeding grounds in Canada.

“These turbines are going to slaughter unnecessarily high amounts of these migratory birds as they’re traveling toward Lake Erie,” Van Kley said.

Van Kley also said the area is “full of bald eagles that will be killed by the turbines.”

That species, near and dear to people’s hearts because it has been America’s national symbol since 1782, is no longer endangered. However, bald eagles remain protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Dispute Over Bird, Bat Toll

Jonathan Secrest, representing Firelands, said he thinks Van Kley has overestimated the number of migratory birds and bald eagles that would become casualties of the project.

Firelands estimated that, at most, the turbines would kill 2.5 bald eagles per year. The company said it would file for an “eagle take” permit, and if more eagles die than allowed, Firelands would face criminal penalties, fines, and curtailment of operations.

However, Justice Melody Stewart expressed concern about that. “You’re hitting the pocket, but it doesn’t rescue those birds.”

In a 2021 court filing, Secrest noted that Ohio then had 39 operating wind projects, with a total of 419 turbines–and as of that date, there was only one known eagle fatality.

Van Kley predicted a particularly grim toll for bats, which help control insects that can destroy farmers’ crops. “The project will kill 14,620 bats per year … totaling 365,500 dead bats over 25 years,” he wrote in a court record.

But Secrest said the project’s toll on wildlife may be lower than Van Kley is asserting. Some estimates assumed that 71 turbines would be built; the actual number could be as low as 52, Secrest said. And, in court records, Firelands claims some of the opponents’ estimates were based on flawed data.

Besides affecting wildlife, Van Kley told the justices there are concerns about residents’ water supplies. Construction of the turbines could pollute or destroy underground water wells that residents rely upon for drinking water, he said.

Further, in a court filing, the residents expressed concern about disturbing noises and “flashing shadows” cast by the rotating blades.

Van Kley told the justices that the potential impact on wildlife, residents, and water deserves further consideration.

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Giant wind turbines are powered by strong prevailing winds near Palm Springs, Calif., on May 13, 2008. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Benefits of Project Argued

But Secrest and an attorney representing the Ohio Power Siting Board, which approved the proposed Emerson Creek Wind Project, said all of those factors were taken into account.

In a court filing, Secrest wrote: “Firelands went above and beyond what was required and completed seven years of surveys–well beyond what is needed to determine risk.”

Spanning about 40,000 acres, the project is expected to create about 50 jobs and produce more than $170 million “in economic output,” the board said, adding that local governments would benefit from tax revenues. Trade groups, local officials, small businesses, and other local citizens supported the project, the board said, according to court records.

“The project strikes a reasonable balance of the competing local interests in terms of protecting public safety, environmental concerns, landowner rights, renewable energy, and local governmental financial concerns,” the board said when making its decision, court records show.

Under that approval, Firelands must comply with 44 “separate, rigorous conditions,” Firelands wrote in court records.

The project’s approval was the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year process. During that span, the Power Siting Board considered “an evidentiary record of more than five thousand pages.”

Further, Firelands argues, the turbines would generate up to 952,000 megawatt-hours of electricity.

For all of those reasons, Firelands argues that the Supreme Court should allow the project’s approval to stand.