News Story

In Picturesque U.P. Peninsula, It's Birds v. Wind Turbines

And the birds are losing, say environmentalist opponents

A wind energy developer who wants to erect 400-foot tall wind turbines on a picturesque U.P. peninsula is getting resistance from environmental groups concerned that the spinning blades threaten migratory and other birds including bald eagles.

The developer, called Heritage Sustainable Energy, already operates 14 wind turbines on the Garden Peninsula, located in Delta County, and wants to add 21 more there.

The peninsula extends 22 miles into Lake Michigan, and by road is about a 55-mile ride from Escanaba. As the seagull flies, however, Garden is just 20 miles east of Escanaba, across Little and Big Bays de Noc.

The wind energy promoter is already involved in a lawsuit filed in 2015 by the non-profit Garden Peninsula Foundation and local residents. The plaintiffs argue that wind turbines are a threat to protected bird species.

The state’s Pure Michigan travel promotion program has referred to the “natural beauty” that has played a role in growing Garden Peninsula tourism.

The latest effort to stop the wind farm expansion was a May 8, 2017 letter sent by Michael Hutchins of the American Bird Conservatory to Gov. Rick Snyder. Hutchins, director of the non-profit’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign, said the organization opposes this expansion, and opposes placement of any wind turbines within 10 miles of a Great Lakes shoreline. Hutchins said the turbines are a risk to migratory birds and bats.

“ABC considers the poorly sited Heritage Garden Peninsula Wind Energy Project another example of the wind industry’s blatant disregard for Canadian and U.S. protected wildlife,” Hutchins wrote.

Heritage stated on its website that seven years of independent avian studies at the existing wind farm have shown “an insignificant impact on birds.”

“To put it in perspective, we now know that one barnyard cat is more of a threat to bird than the entire Garden Wind Farm,” the fact sheet claims.

However, a 2014 letter sent by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Field Supervisor Scott Hicks advises Heritage Sustainable Energy that the federal agency recommends no wind expansion on the Garden Peninsula.

Hicks wrote that the “limited data” from the existing wind farm was not enough to allay concerns about placing more turbines in an area “that appears to have greater wildlife risks than the currently operating facility.”

Delta County Administrator Ryan Bergman said he wouldn’t comment on private business plans.

“If they do decide to expand they will of course be expected to follow all applicable zoning and permitting regulations,” Bergman said in an email.