Japan's wind power threatens sea eagle

Posted: 29 March 2005

Author: Kenji Ishihara

Wind power plants have an important part to play in creating non-polluting energy but more attention needs to be paid to their impact on wild birds, including Japan's white-tailed sea eagle (ojirowashi ), a protected species which is frequently killed in collisions with wind turbines, says Kenji Ishihara.

In 1998, there were 105 power generating windmills across Japan, generating about 35,500 kilowatts of electricity.In 2003, the number jumped to 735, resulting in an increase in power generation to about 680,000 kilowatts.

With the government's goal to increase wind power generation to 3 million kilowatts by 2010, construction of wind power plants is proceeding rapidly around the nation.

The targeted amount of electricity to be generated by wind power plants is equivalent to that generated by three nuclear power plants. But since wind power is viewed as a benign technology, construction is not regulated by the environmental impact assessment law and no consideration for wild birds was given when locations are selected for such power plants. Between February and March last year, several ojirowashi were killed in collisions with 100 meter tall wind generators in Tomamaecho, Hokkaido. On December 10, an ojirowashi was killed after colliding with a giant wind turbine at a facility recently built in Nemuro, Hokkaido.

Facing extinction

The incidents occurred above marine terraces where rising air currents make it easy for the raptors to fly. The ojirowashi is a species facing possible extinction, with the number in the country estimated at about 150 and the deaths shocked many people.

Cape Soya in Wakkanai, Hokkaido, is another location that can be dangerous to wild birds. The cape, which many migratory birds, including ojirowashi, pass on their way from Russia and Sakhalin, is currently constructing the largest wind power plant to date, with 57 wind turbines. Saiko Shiraki, a researcher specializing in ojirowashi at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, said construction of wind power, plants should be given a second look because about half of the world's 5,000 surviving birds pass by Cape Soya. However, the construction firm responsible for the project insists that the plant could not have any impact on wild birds because it had conducted an inspection.

Hokkaido is not the only area threatening the life of wild birds. Although deaths of protected species were not reported, black kites were killed after colliding with windmills in the Goto islands in Nagasaki Prefecture, and in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture.In Ikitsukicho, Nagasaki Prefecture, hooded cranes and white-naped cranes are reported to fly around such facilities.

National parks

Similar incidents have been reported elewhere. Between 1998 and 2003, 1,189 wild birds, including golden eagles, were confirmed to have died from colliding with wind power plants in California.

A meeting in 2002 of the signatory countries of the Bonn Convention,which protects migratory wild birds, adopted a resolution voicing their concerns over wind power plants. The Wild Life Divison of Japan's Environment Ministry has taken note of the accidents involving i>ojirowashi.

Last April, the Ministry formulated requirements banning construction of wind power plants in areas under special protection in national parks, but the requirements were designed to protect the landscape. Furthermore, there are no regulations to restrict construction of wind power plants in areas outside national parks.

Toru Suzuki, director of the Hokkaido Green Fund, a nonprofit organization composed of citizens promoting wind power, said a legal system should be established to assess environmental impact and thatthe government should make such an assessment a requirement before construction of wind power plants is approved.There is little information on the habitats of wild life in the country.

In Germany, a method called mapping was developed to compile data on habitats of wild life, including migratory birds, to determine possible construction locations for wind power plants. The method allows both wind power plants and wild life to coexist.Yukihiro Kominami, head of the Wild Bird Society of Japan's Conservation Section, said researchers and citizens should join forces to establish a framework similar to that in Germany

Kenji Ishihara is a staff writer with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Japan.

Source: Network of Indian Environmental Professionals (NIEP)