Top of the World to implement eagle-friendly tech

Mike Moore photo
A horse grazes in an open pasture near wind turbines outside of Rolling Hills Sept. 21. Top of the World is looking to obtain eagle-friendly tech.

Colin Tiernan

Eagles aren’t dumb. They’re just really focused when they hunt.
“They’re smart enough to evade wind turbines, that’s really not the issue,” Duke Energy Renewables spokesperson Tammie McGee said. “When they’re hunting . . . their eyes are on the ground. So they’re not looking ahead, they’re focused on looking at a juicy little jackrabbit there, or antelope.”
Because they don’t tend to look straight ahead while intently searching for prey, bald and golden eagles can be a frequent victim of turbines at wind farms.
Duke hopes that the installation of IdentiFlight technology, which scans the sky for eagles and automatically shuts down turbines, will reduce fatalities.
Wanzek Construction out of North Dakota submitted a Notice of Industrial Activity to the county Sept. 17, and will install 23 units, making Top of the World the first wind farm to become IdentiFlight equipped.
Top of the World, which is a few miles east of Rolling Hills, sits atop 17,000 acres, includes 110 turbines and is an ideal site for the technology.
“From the very beginning at that site, we saw that there was high eagle usage,” McGee said.
The company tried a bunch of methods to limit eagle kills. They made sure to remove carrion from the site. They tried radar.
“(The radar) was very similar to what was used in Afghanistan to monitor incoming missiles,” McGee said. “We tested that with mixed results.”
Here’s how IdentiFlight works: Cameras mounted on towers (not the turbines themselves), send a live feed to a program that checks the images for eagles.
If the IdentiFlight system detects an eagle, and determines that the eagle’s on a collision course with a turbine, it can send a signal to shut down that specific turbine almost instantaneously. That way, the eagle won’t be hit by the jumbo-jet-sized blades whipping through the air at 170 mph. The system can detect an eagle from over 1,000 yards away.
Duke’s current set-up typically involves placing two biologists at the site during the day, one in an eagle tower and one on the ground, ready to shut down turbines if necessary. 
“The camera doesn’t get tired like human eyes do,” McGee explained.
Duke has, in the past, had to pay for killing eagles, pleading guilty in 2013 to killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other migratory birds in Wyoming.
The case marked the first instance of a wind energy company facing criminal prosecution for bird fatalities.
Duke might eventually rely on automation to do the job of biologists at the wind farms, but McGee pointed out that there will always be human eyes, in the form of turbine technicians, on site every day.


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