Swiss wind park ordered to scale back to protect birds

The main courtroom of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court is pictured in Lausanne
The main courtroom (Grande Salle) of the Swiss Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgericht) is pictured in Lausanne, Switzerland, Switzerland, November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ZURICH, Nov 24 (Reuters) - A new wind park in Switzerland must scale back its plans to deliver renewable energy in order to protect vulnerable bird species, the country's supreme court ruled on Wednesday.

Plans for the new wind park, in the Grenchenberg region in the Jura mountains, had sparked opposition from ornithologists and conservationists, who argued it would interfere with local populations of woodlarks and peregrine falcons, deemed vulnerable in Switzerland.

The wind park had aimed to deliver 16 megawatts of energy by 2023 through six new wind turbines, enough to cover two-thirds of the nearby town of Grenchen's electricity consumption.

Now, operator Windkraft Grenchen will be permitted to install only four of the six turbines, the Supreme Court ruled, saying efforts to ramp up renewable energy must be balanced with protecting biodiversity and landscapes. read more

"Ultimately, the decisive factor is that the two wind turbines located furthest to the east would be only 350 and 700 meters from a peregrine falcon nest," the Supreme Court said in a statement.

"They thus fall well short of the minimum distance of 1,000 meters, which the Sempach ornithological station describes as the lowest justifiable limit."

The push to find new sources of renewable energy has pitted conservationists and social activists against plans to massively ramp up carbon-neutral energy facilities, as the world seeks to stave off the worst consequences of climate change.

Norway's supreme court in October stripped two wind farms of their operating licences when it ruled the projects' construction violated the rights of indigenous reindeer herders. read more

BirdLife Switzerland, which had filed the complaint against the planned Swiss wind park, said the ruling confirmed the need to balance interests and plan wind parks accordingly.

"Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are two equally existential crises," the organisation said. "One cannot be solved at the expense of the other."

Wind energy association Suisse Eole said it was disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision.

"The biggest enemy of birds is and remains climate change," its president, Isabelle Chevalley said.

Windkraft Grenchen did not respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi Editing by Mark Potter

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