Tech Solution Mooted for Wind Turbines’ Threat to Golan Vultures

But greens skeptical, continue to oppose alternative energy project

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The developers of a large wind turbine project for electricity production on the Golan Heights are proposing the use of a system that will identify oncoming birds of prey and silence the turbines as they approach to prevent harming them.

This offer is aimed at reducing the concerns of environmentalists about the possibility that birds will be hit by turbine blades. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, however, is not convinced that this solution will prevent harm and continues to oppose the project.

Enlight Renewable Energy is advancing a large project to produce electricity from wind power, to be located near Tel Fares in the Golan Heights. The project, called Genesis Wind, was given preliminary approval six months ago by the National Infrastructures Commission and moved to the public comments stage. The plan includes dozens of turbines whose total power production capacity will be 130 megawatts. They will stand 150 meters high and occupy some 15,000 dunams (over 3,700 acres).

Environmental protection groups are vehemently opposed to the project for fear that the turbine blades will harm the Golan’s vulture population, which numbers only a few dozen birds. There is a dispute between Enlight and the INPA regarding the risk posed to the vultures, and the two sides agreed to have another evaluation conducted by a mutually agreed upon international expert.

Recently Enlight contacted a Portuguese environmental consulting firm called STRIX that produces a system called Birdtrack that shuts down turbines when birds approach. The system is already being used at two wind turbine farms in Portugal and in a similar large installation near the Red Sea in Egypt.

“It’s a system based on radar that identifies the approach of birds at a distance of up to 10 kilometers,” explained the company’s CEO, Miguel Rapas, who visited Israel last week. “In addition, an ornithologist is employed as a lookout to identify what kind of birds are approaching. In the case of the Golan Heights, we would also use information received from the GPS transmitters attached to the bodies of some Golan vultures, thus creating several layers of protection.”

Over the past few months, thousands of vultures have flown through the area of the wind turbines in Portugal where the system operates and the turbine shutdowns have so far prevented harm to the birds. Rapas says the turbines are shut down for a very short time compared to their total time of operation and that this has not impacted on the financial feasibility of the project. The system also allows for the shutdown of only some of the turbines based on data of the birds’ movement. He believes the system could work in the conditions on the Golan Heights.

“We don’t want to force this project on the ‘greens’ and prefer that it be with their agreement,” says Gilad Yaavetz, CEO of Enlight. “We are prepared for even longer shutdowns than in Portugal if that’s what’s necessary.” He said the company plans to take other steps to prevent harm to the vultures, including the regular removal of animal carcasses from the area of the project. Vultures are attracted to these carcasses and their removal will reduce the chances of them approaching the area.

INPA officials aren’t convinced the technology will work in the Golan.

“The technology in question is effective primarily in places where there is a large front of birds that approach during certain seasons of the year,” says Dr. Noam Lider, the INPA’s chief ecologist. “But in the Tel Fares area there is daily movement of vultures, which we know based on the transmitters on them. We are afraid that this will lead to lengthy shutdowns of the turbines and a loss of energy and money. Then there will be demands to reduce the shutdowns so as not to undermine the project.

“In addition, examinations we have done show that one cannot transmit real-time data on the vultures’ location through the GPS transmitters, so that won’t help either,” Lider said. “That’s why we continue to oppose the project. We believe that this method is more suited to places like the northern Negev, where most of the passage of birds is during the migration season.”

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