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Coloured wind turbines to help winged beauties fly off deathtraps
Wind turbines’ rotor blades and their associated infrastructure such as power lines and towers are killing thousands of storks, raptors, migratory and local birds every year in the country. To protect the winged beauties from the killer turbines, the Government is preparing a set of guidelines for the wind power companies and transmission line grids.
The guidelines will direct the companies and transmission line grids to mandatorily paint the wind turbines in bright yellow colour and deploy bird-flight diverters — brightly coloured spirals of plastic or steel at regular intervals on conductors on transmission lines — in order to make them more visible to birds in flight.
Other measures include avoiding plantation of fruit tree species near wind turbine projects and using underground cables wherever possible.
The guidelines will be soon issued to the wind energy players, said sources in the Ministry.
The proposed measures are part of the recommendations made in a report prepared by the Mumbai-based Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), highlighting the lesser-known danger of wind power projects to the bird species.
As per the avian collision threat assessment carried out by the BNHS in Sangli in Maharashtra, the annual collision rate was found to be 25 birds in the area where 13 wind power projects are running. Numerous other studies have revealed that the maximum collision risk was during winter as compared to monsoon.
The ‘bird-friendly’ guidelines were discussed in details at a meeting of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) under the Union Environment Ministry recently when it was deliberating on a proposal for setting up 46.40 MW wind power project by Rayala Wind Power Company in Kondapalli Reserve forests in the then united Andhra Pradesh.
During the deliberation, the members also pointed out that the casualty to migratory birds, raptor and local birds occurs not only due to the establishment of wind energy farms on forest land but all wind energy farms, whether set up on forest land or outside the forest land, are potential threat to migratory birds, raptors and birds.
The biggest threat comes from the high tension transmission lines with tall pylons (35 meters and above) being established by the transmission companies. “It is necessary that the transmission companies are also directed by the Environment Ministry to fix diverters on transmission cable as a standard practice to avoid the casualty of birds by collision and electrocution,” the members are reported to have said at the meeting.
The BNHS in its report has also blamed power lines as one of the major causes of unnatural deaths for birds in a large part of the country.
“Though exact numbers are unknown but annually tens of thousands of birds are killed. It has been observed that the two major impacts of power lines on birds are electrocution and collision. Electrocution most commonly occurs at medium voltage distribution lines (1 kV to 60 kV), due to the close spacing of the structures. It often involves large perching bird species, such as storks, birds of prey and corvids, which can easily bridge the gap between two cables, or the charged parts and the power line structure,” the report said.
On electrocution which mainly occurs in open habitats (e.g, deserts, plains, steppes, grasslands, and wetlands) lacking natural perches or trees for nesting or roosting, the report pointed out that it especially affects birds during the breeding season, when nest building, hunting and territorial behaviour put adult birds suck as White Storks, Eurasian Eagle Owls, and eagles at risk. In summer, post-breeding dispersal of juveniles and the start of migration also result in an increase in electrocution casualties.
Similarly, collision can occur at all above ground power lines, although more so with high voltage power lines than low or medium voltage lines,” as per the BNHS.
In India, cases have been documented where wind farms are being set up inside wildlife sanctuaries. Ela Foundation, a Pune-based organisation, in its two-year study to assess the impact of wind farms on birds, found that of 89 avian species recorded on the avian diversity at Bhambarwadi Plateau in the northern Western Ghats, 27 were badly hit by rotor blade menace.
In addition to the risk zones created by the turbines, the wind masts are supported by very thin steel wires that are not visible from a distance, which lead to avian collisions and subsequent mortality. The report has recommended that the supporting wires of the wind mast and the mast itself should be marked in bright colours or flags to make them prominently visible from a distance.
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