Kluane First Nation is moving ahead with plans to build three wind turbines off the Alaska Highway, between Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing and they could be in place by next year.

"We're very happy to be at this stage in the game where we've got our application in place, we've got some funding in place," said Bob Dickson, chief of the First Nation. 

"We've been looking at this wind farm idea for probably 20 years or more."  

The project, which includes building three towers, each 50 metres tall, upgrading a 1.5 kilometre road and adding storage facilities for fuel, operations and maintenance, is currently being reviewed by Yukon's Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board.

One aspect the board will review is the project's potential impacts on birds and other wildlife.

Bird migration corridor

Dave Mossop

'This is one of the first iterations of this activity [wind turbines] across the North and we really want to get it right,' says Dave Mossop, wildlife biologist. (Steve Hossack/CBC)

A Yukon wildlife biologist says, yes, some birds will hit the towers. Dave Mossop has been monitoring bird activity at the site to find out how big of an issue collisions will be and if there are things that can be done to reduce fatalities. 

He said the proposed site is very different from the territory's other wind turbines on Haeckel Hill overlooking Whitehorse, because the Kluane Lake turbines will be located near lake level.

"They're on a major migration corridor that's well-known," said Mossop. 

Following his recommendations, the planners have already moved the tower site further from the lakeshore. Mossop said he won't know the full impacts on birds until the towers are built, he thinks the numbers will be relatively low. 

"All you have to do is, basically, tether half a dozen house cats and you're probably going to save as many birds as you would by stopping everything that goes by a turbine."

In addition to chosing a smart location, wind towers without guy-wires, which are hard for birds to see, or lattices that tempt birds to land, can reduce mortalities, said Mossop.

Bat monitoring needed

Brian Slough

Wildlife biologist Brian Slough wrote a bat monitoring plan for Kluane First Nation. (CBC)

Like birds, bats have been known to strike towers, but they can also die just from flying too close to the towers. Increased air pressure near the turbines can cause "barotrauma" that damages the lungs of bats. 

Brian Slough, a Yukon Environment bat biologist, was hired by Kluane First Nation to develop a bat monitoring program for the turbine site. He said monitoring should take place before the turbines are built, because he said there's no existing data about bat activity in that area at the tower height of 50 metres above ground.

"We have no idea if bats are migrating through the area." 

Slough said if bats are using the area, mitigation measure can be used — like turning the turbines off during peak migration times or programming the rotors to start spinning at wind speeds bats are less active in. 

"They [rotors] usually start at about 4 metres per second wind speed and at that wind speed the bats could be quite active. But at a higher cut in speed, like maybe 5.5 metres per second, that would significantly reduce bat fatalities."  

Slough said a change like that would not be detrimental to power production. 

"They can almost save almost all bat fatalities by losing less than one percent of annual power production."     

Towers ahead

Kluane First Nation says the wind energy generated by the towers is expected to replace more than a quarter of the annual diesel use of Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing — about 160,000 litres per year. 

Chief Dickson said he's hoping to have the final funding for the project secured this summer. He said if all goes well, the towers could be up by next summer. 

YESAB is accepting comments about the project until Jun. 21.