Protecting the environment is a key part of building functional, sustainable and effective transmission and distribution lines. The Montana Electric Cooperatives' Association is taking environmental protection beyond federal, state and local re
Developing a plan to keep birds safe by updating transmission and distribution line standards goes beyond federal and local regulations.
The tall uprights of transmission and distribution lines are essential for carrying power to the farthest reaches of our country. But to the many species of large birds that call these power lines home sweet home, these wooden and steel poles are considered prime real estate.
Rare and endangered birds often use these structures for perches or for establishing long-term nesting sites, despite electrocution and collision risks. This has prompted federal and local governments to create a wide range of policies, permits and regulations that protect wildlife and birds, including the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
In response to the need to reduce potential risks to birds interacting with utility structures, members of the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association (MECA) developed a statewide Avian Protection Plan (APP) to cover its members and 56,000 miles of power lines. This plan will be completed within the year and is designed to help prevent the deaths of these spectacular creatures.
MECA sought to develop a protection plan informed by participation from utilities at levels thought to be unprecedented in any state. Burns & McDonnell joined the project to coordinate the effort for MECA and 22 participating members. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reviewed the initial scope and provided feedback and encouragement to MECA.
The APP also provides a basic blueprint for how MECA members will share data with agencies on bird mortalities and nesting sites, offering insight into the effectiveness of new equipment. The ongoing training of utility employees throughout Montana on the assessment of risks to birds and mortality reporting will be necessary, as well as in the continued installation and maintenance of avian protection equipment.
Inspired by the rising need for training in environmental regulation and plans such as the APP, Burns & McDonnell held its first Wildlife & Energy Interaction Symposium at its world headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, this June. The new conference focuses on environmental regulation and the impact of energy projects on endangered species. Attendees will join energy professionals and environmental scientists from around the country for the 2017 conference to learn more about environmental responsibility and compliance with local and federal policy.
Other electric cooperatives and utility companies may wish to follow the example set by the Montana Electrical Cooperatives’ Association Avian Protection Plan. By implementing a similar plan, they can successfully combine the delivery of responsible, reliable power with environmental protection while continuing to stay ahead of regulatory considerations.