Hawaii's push toward green energy is having an impact on flying creatures who live next to wind farms or traverse the spinning turbines, some of which stand 493 feet tall at the highest blade tips.
According to data provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 195 birds and bats and one moth were killed by five of the largest wind farms on Maui and Oahu since August 2007. KITV4 obtained the information after filling a Freedom of Information request with the agency.
"Unfortunately, that may just be the price we have to pay for wind energy, renewable energy," said Angela Huntemer, a North Shore resident who has been working to promote wildlife conservation at Turtle Bay Resort.
According to statistics examined by KITV4, Kaheawa Wind Power 1, located on a ridge above Maalaea in southwest Maui, had the largest number of birds and bats killed, with 81. That was followed by the Kawailoa Wind Farm on Oahu's North Shore with 54 kills, the Kahuku Wind Farm in Koolauloa with 30 kills, Kaheawa Wind Power 2 with 17 kills, and Auwahi Wind on Ulupalakua Ranch in southeast Maui with 13 kills. At Auwahi Wind, an endangered Blackburn's sphinx moth was also killed, but the death is not believed to be the result of a windmill strike.
However most concerning is the number of endangered birds and bats killed by wind turbines over a period of six years and seven months. According to statistics examined by KITV4, 25 Hawaiian hoary bats, 20 nene and four Hawaiian petrels have fallen victim to wind turbines.
Seventeen of the nene, Hawaii's state bird, were killed at Kaheawa Wind Power 1, while three died at Kaheawa Wind Power 2. Nene are mostly found on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island, although a nesting pair recently hatched chicks in Kahuku.
Meanwhile the largest number of Hawaiian hoary bats killed, 12, died at the Kawailoa Wind Farm. That was followed by seven at Kaheawa Wind Power 1, three at Kahuku Wind Power, two at Kaheawa Wind Power 2 and one at Auwahi Wind Farm.
First Wind operates four of the five wind farms that reported "strike data" to the Fish and Wildlife Service, and was the first company to complete a habitat conservation plan at its Kaheawa Wind Power 1 location. Habitat conservation plans identify species likely to be impacted by wind turbines and prescribes mitigation efforts that will actually increase populations.
First Wind invited KITV4 onto its Kawailoa property to observe operations and see how the Boston-based company tries to mitigate bird and animal strikes.
"In the end, our projects create a net conservation benefit for these species in Hawaii and that means increasing their numbers for years to come," said Carolyn Unser, First Wind's community outreach coordinator.
For example, First Wind's Makamakaole seabird mitigation project on Maui provides a predator-free home for Newell shearwaters and Hawaiian petrels. All told, the company has budgeted $6.2 million for conservation efforts in Hawaii at its four wind farms on Maui and Oahu.
At Kawailoa, First Wind has erected 100 wildlife acoustic song meters to track the movement of hoary bats across hundreds of acres. The devices pick up signals emitted by the tiny creatures as they navigate through the air.
"It allows us to see when they're most active," said Unser. "What time of the day and what time of the year."
Although First Wind is revealing itself as a good environmental steward, incidental kills have some North Shore locals wondering whether the area has reached its wind power limit.
"I would definitely like to see a moratorium on wind power, at least in our area on Oahu and perhaps around the islands where there are birds that frequent the areas that are protected," said Huntemer.
Under the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it's illegal to kill an endangered or protected species. However wind farms are allowed to operate under waivers and incidental take permits granted by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency declined an interview with KITV4 regarding windmill strikes in Hawaii.
For a complete list of birds and animals killed by wind turbines in Hawaii, click here