GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — An operations center in California can shut down wind turbines 1,200 miles away in Montana in fewer than 30 seconds when the flight patterns of golden eagles and other raptors indicate a potential collision in the making.
The quick response is possible because of tracking radar, "detect and deter" cameras and human spotters called "bio-monitors" deployed at Rim Rock Wind Facility in Montana's Glacier and Toole counties.
Greg Copeland of San Francisco-based NaturEner USA, the owner, says the combination of technology and trained avian biologists form a tiered alert system that's proving to be effective, so far, at preventing the turbine blades from striking birds.
"We think this three-layered system provides the best kind of protections that have been deployed anywhere in the United States," Copeland said.
The 189-megawatt wind farm with 126 turbines is Montana's largest.
It's located near the Kevin Rim, a series of sandstone cliffs 20 miles northwest of Shelby.
Golden eagles, ferruginous hawks and other species nest in the rocky outcroppings, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Audubon previously have raised concerns about the location of the wind facility in prime raptor habitat.