A proposed wind energy project near Kluane Lake has been recommended for approval by YESAB. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Bat and bird deaths a concern in proposed Kluane wind energy project

Little brown bats, common nighthawk and olive-sided flycatcher among the species at risk in the area

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board has recommended the proposed Kluane N’tsi (Wind) Energy Project go forward, providing management plans are put in place to mitigate concerns around the safety of bats and birds.

“Wind turbines cause the death of both birds and bats due to these animals being struck by blades or striking guy wires,” the YESAB recommendation report said. “The project is also located in an area that is a ‘major corridor for birds.’ The designated office found that the project will lead to significant adverse effects due to bird and bat deaths but that these effects can be mitigated through the application of mitigation measures.”

These recommendations include “feathering” of wind turbines “in the event of high risk for bats” and “effective passive and active bird deterrence or strike reduction methods,” the report said.

The proposed project, which would be owned by the Kluane First Nation, would be built between the Alaska Highway and Kluane Lake and would comprise three wind turbines with a total capacity of 285 kilowatts. It would provide 570,000 kW of electricity annually to Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay, replacing about 27 per cent of the electricity currently generated by diesel in the region, reducing consumption of diesel fuel by 160,000 litres a year.

Concerns about birds and bats however were raised early in the process, specifically by the White River First Nation, who also claim the area as part of their traditional territory. WRFN said in its commentary to YESAB that the proposed project is “located within a crucial bird migration corridor,” and that it would like to see “mitigation measures put in place to ensure minimal numbers of birds are striking infrastructure.”

The Kluane First Nation was not available to comment by press time.

Ninety-one different bird species were noted by bird biologist David Mossop in the proposed construction area, which overlaps the Shakwak bird migration route. These species include the common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) and the olive-sided flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) which are considered threatened under the Species At Risk Act. Little brown bats, which are considered a vulnerable species in the Yukon, may also be present in the area.

Jean-Paul Pinard, an atmospheric scientist and wind-turbine specialist involved in the project, said that consideration for birds and bats was given early-on. The wind turbines were originally supposed to be closer to the lake, he said, but the project was recalibrated to move them farther back in order to protect animals along the shoreline.

“We realized there are a lot of migratory birds along the shoreline,” Pinard said. “So we moved (the turbines) farther back from the lake.”

One possible method of protecting birds might be to simply turn the turbines off during the migration period, he said. This would protect the animals from being struck by the blades, but would not protect them from striking the guy wires, which is considered to be the biggest concern.

Pinard noted there has been a meteorological tower at the site for years. The tower was used as a guide for the initial bird impact study, as birds sometimes strike the guy wires associated with it and die. The guy wires on the proposed turbines will actually be bigger, thicker, and easier to see than the ones associated with the meteorological tower, he said, which may reduce bat and bird deaths.

It is unknown how many bats actually live in the area, he said, and so precisely how impacted they would be is not certain. Studies, including using sensors to detect bats at the site, are currently being conducted. The bats are currently beginning their annual migration, he said, which takes place late August or early September.

“As for bats, we don’t know if bats are a problem at the site,” he said. “That’s still a question. How serious is the bat issue at the site? We don’t know but we’re going to find out.”

While concerns over bats and birds are definitely something to be considered, Pinard said people have to look at the “greater picture.”

“Yes, (wind turbines) do kill birds and bats,” he said. “But domestic cats kill far, far more (than turbines)… We have to look at getting off of fossil fuels, which are by far the greatest threat mankind is currently facing.”

A final decision by the Yukon government and Nav Canada whether to approve the Kluane N’tsi (Wind) Energy project is expected by Sept. 15, barring extenuating circumstances.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com