Birds of Prey Statement, 19 April 2017 Kipeto Energy Ltd. (KEL) is responsible for the overall development, financing, construction and operation of the Kipeto Wind Power Project which will play a crucial role in enabling Kenya to achieve its Vision 2030 objectives. In addition to contributing reliable clean energy to the grid, once operational, the project will ensure that, over the life of the project, more than Ksh 3 billion (US$ 34 million) will be invested for the long-term benefit of the local communities via a community trust fund and through direct payments to landowners for the lease of their land. In accordance with international best practice, and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) requirements, KEL has undertaken a series of environmental assessments and impact studies over the last five years, during the planning and development stages of the project.
Following our latest studies on the local bird populations, a vulture colony survey 2016 (March), and cliff line survey 2016 (June), KEL initiated discussions with local bird conservation organisations about the protection of vultures in the project area and asked for their input on the proposed risk mitigation measures. KEL has shared its research data with the bird conservation community and continues to be an active contributor to ongoing conservation discussions. Conservation groups have noted that the project is located in an area of high avian activity, and is close to colonies of what have become critically endangered vultures. Recent press and social media articles have suggested that the project will threaten the continued existence of these species. KEL and its shareholders take this issue very seriously and are working to find a solution that benefits both the community and the environment. Large raptors (birds of prey) use strong wind currents as highways and tend to travel over vast territories. Wind farms are based in windy places, of course, and several international studies have shown that large raptors, such as eagles and vultures, risk fatal collisions with turbine blades if they fly through the wind farm. Vulture numbers in Kenya are thought to have declined by 65% in the last 25 years, due to a range of environmental factors as well as human-wildlife conflict and, principally, the indirect impact of carcass poisoning.
Studies have shown that one poisoned elephant carcass can kill over 100 vultures feeding on the remains. At the end of 2015, following a drop in numbers worldwide, the Rüppell’s and White-backed Vultures were reclassified to ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. These species were classified as only ‘Near Threatened’ when the project commissioned its initial studies in 2011. This reclassification caused KEL to re-examine the potential impact of the Kipeto wind project on these indigenous vulture species. The Environmental and Social Performance Standards of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), to which the Kipeto wind power project must adhere, require that, if the project occurs in critical habitat, the project will put in place mitigation actions and conservation measures to deliver net gains to the values or species triggering critical habitat status. In this case, highly threatened vulture species are considered to meet the criteria for critical habitat. There are therefore two parts to the project’s response to this new challenge.
The first is to deploy a series of best-in-class, mitigation measures on-site to minimize the risk to the local vulture population (as well as to other species), so that collisions are as infrequent as possible. The second is to fund a series of conservation measures that result in more vultures surviving than would otherwise have been the case. These conservation measures would be implemented, ideally, in partnership with local conservation organisations – including, of course, the Kenyan Wildlife Service and the National Museum of Kenya. Following impact studies commissioned by the Kipeto project, the design of the mitigation plan will rely on observer-led curtailment, through which a team of trained observers spot the raptors as they approach and shut down the appropriate turbines (turbines can stop in less than one minute). This has been shown to achieve a reduction in bird casualties by over 70% in wind farms in Spain. A second focus will be to keep the wind farm clear of carcasses, to avoid attracting vultures to the site. These key measures will be supplemented by other efforts and our intention is to be an incubator for testing the effectiveness of new mitigation ideas. By adopting the best mitigation methods in the world, we believe that these efforts will enjoy success, but there is still a risk that a small number of birds will die. We need to offset this by contributing to the wider conservation effort.
It is important to set this in context: if the current trends continue, the species will be extinct in a short space of time, with or without any wind farm development. The wider conservation ideas we are exploring include creating a form of conservancy to protect breeding colonies; the establishment of a rescue and rehabilitation centre for vultures and other raptors; the establishment of a vulture feeding area near to the local colony, and support for future vulture survey work. Funding an effective anti-poisoning campaign is another key measure, starting with eradicating poisoning from the project area, and then broadening it to the wider county and beyond. The project shareholders respect the concerns of bird conservation groups regarding the impact of the project, but we believe that the conservation initiatives that the project would fund offer a real prospect of improving the populations of these critically endangered vulture species. The project will ensure a considerable increase in the level of resources currently available for vulture conservation in Kenya. We are not alone in believing that not going ahead with the project presents a greater long-term risk for the vultures than continuing does. We continue to invite all conservation groups to contribute in combined efforts to develop the final strategy and to help implement our plan to mitigate losses, and to support the conservation and regeneration of the vulture population in the project area and beyond. We thank the Kenyan Government, the Kenya Wildlife Service and other government agencies for their ongoing support. [Ends.]