May 16, 2011
Prairie Chickens: Another Challenge for Wind Energy Development
The Kansas Department of Wildlife is asking a wind energy developer to spend an extra $567 million to route its project’s power lines away from “lesser prairie chicken” mating areas.
According to a Kansas City Star article published yesterday, the Department’s revised power transmission route would spare about 140 of the 20,000 to 40,000 lesser prairie chickens estimated to live in Kansas. Based on those figures, the developer is being asked to spend about $4 million per prairie chicken saved. An ordinary Kansas hunter can purchase a license to kill up to 40 of the birds for less than $21.
Usually, conflicts between bird conservationists and wind energy developers center around the risk that birds or bats will suffer fatal collisions with turbines and towers. Developers now tend to install wind turbines outside of migratory bird paths to help limit bird fatalities on wind farms.
In contrast, wind turbines and transmission systems threaten prairie chickens by inhibiting the birds’ breeding activities. A Bloomberg article from 2009 states that the species’ mating rituals involve an “elaborate dance” and suggests that “the chickens have learned to avoid such mating displays around structures like wind turbines or utility poles where predators may perch.”
Based on the available information, revising the transmission route to steer clear of the chickens’ breeding grounds seemingly isn’t cost-justified in this case. It will be interesting to see whether the Kansas Corporation Commission, which is deciding this dispute, reaches the same conclusion.
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