Wind Turbines Generate Electricity and Controversy: a series on whats in the wind.
Opponents objections and concerns regarding wind turbines can be listed in eight distinct categories: Visual,
Noise, Intermittent Power, Bird/Bat deaths, Altering Vegetation, Fire, Ice and Pollutants. In this second article, Wind Farm – Cons, Part 2 the discussion is Bird/Bat Deaths.
“Bird deaths from wind power are the new inconvenient truth. The total number of birds killed and the amount of bird habitat lost will dramatically increase as wind power build-out continues across the country in a rush to meet federal renewable energy targets,” said American Bird Conservancy Vice-President Mike Parr. The American Bird Conservancy is the nations leading bird conservation organization.
“There’s concern because of the scale of what we’re talking about,” said Shawn Smallwood, a Davis, Calif., ecologist and researcher. “Just the sheer numbers of turbines … we’re going to be killing so many raptors until there are no more raptors.” William M. Welch reporting for USA Today writes” For years, a huge wind farm in California’s San Joaquin valley was slaughtering thousands of birds, including golden eagles, red tailed hawks and burrowing owls. The raptors would get sliced up by the blades on the 5,400 turbines in Altamont Pass, or electrocuted by the wind farm’s power lines.” George Will columnist for the Washington Post stated on a May 2, 2011 interview on ABC This Week that” wind farms kill a lot more birds daily than are going to be killed in this [BP] oil spill.”
West Virginia has four wind generating facilities and at three of them bird fatalities have been reported. In 2003 at the Mountaineer Wind Farm 30 birds were found dead after one night. At the 61 tower complex at Laurel Hill almost 500 birds were killed Oct 2 and 3, 2011 and at Mount Storm 59 birds and two bats died on September 24, 2011. There are numerous other locations where deaths occur, most notably is the 30 year old facility at Altamont Pass in California. It’s not hard to imagine that with the speed and length of the blade of turbines that birds could easily fly into them and get killed. Bats on the other hand should be able to avoid the blades by using their echolocation. Recent studies indicate bat deaths are occurring due to baratrauma. There is a low pressure area immediately behind the rotating blade, if a bat flies into this area it can cause the bats lungs to expand in it’s body cavity and the lung capillaries to explode.
Only a few decades ago eagles, hawks and other raptors were near extinction due to sport hunting, poisoning by ranchers and pesticide use of farmers. How ironic that now avian populations are on the rise they will be decimated by green energy initiatives promoted by the same environmental organizations that rallied to protect them. Many of the large raptors are still on the threatened/protected species list by the federal government. Weighing the pros and cons of wind energy and bird/bat death it appears that wind farms are in the negative – con.
Actually there are three cons when it comes to reporting bird/bat deaths and wind farms. Conflict of interest, neo-Conservative agendas and Controversy stimulated by sensationalist media coverage.
Manipulation of statistics and misinformation copied on websites, reported by the media and repeated at public gatherings quickly becomes part of the mass consciousness of the public. The three cons listed above know this and use it to promote self interests. Those interests heckle, hinder or halt sustainable energy development and hurt the health of the planet.
The bird deaths at three W. VA. wind farms is a good example. Bold headlines (oft repeated) read Neds Powers Mount Storm Wind Farm Kills 59 Birds, Laurel Hill Bird Kill – 500 Dead. The truth is that the fatal events happened on evenings of foggy weather with poor visibility. At all three events no birds were injured by turbines – none. At the Laural Hill facility there is a parking lot illuminated with 5 utility poles each with a 250w floodlight. The birds became disoriented in the gloom and continued to circle the lighted parking area colliding with storage trailers or dropping dead from exhaustion. At the two other fatal occasions circumstances were similar, lighting not turbines was cause of death. The association of birds and a wind farm was sufficient information to spread propaganda by the cons .
Neo-conservatives have adopted bird/bat deaths to foment and increase wind energy controversy. Sites like the Romantic Poet web blog, Better Plan Wisconsin, Canada Free Press, Heartlander Magazine and Blaze (founded by Glen Beck, Fox News commentator) more often noted for mocking environmental stewardship are now flocking to protect birds. Or are they? Reading past articles and home pages I found no mention of preservation activity. The rhetoric is just a hollow tool to hinder sustainable development as they grasp onto and support traditional extractive resources.
About the Birds. Reports dramatically portray 1000s of owls, hawks and eagles being mangled and mauled by the terrible turbines but raptors are actually a small percentage of total bird fatalities. The majority of birds lost are actually passerines. Passerines are the small migrating song birds like warblers, cuckoos and rails. The loss is no less significant but certainly not as dramatic for a chilling story. Although wind generators are receiving a lot of bad press there are millions of birds killed annually by anthropogenic causes such as buildings, windows, vehicles and cell towers. Not much is being said about these other man made caused collisions. An excellent comprehensive report A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions prepared by the USDA Forest Service provides a good explanation of the issue.When talking of overall bird deaths it is good to have a comparison to put the controversy and contradictions in perspective
Bird and bat mortality is a serious concern as new wind farms are being constructed to meet future energy demands and reduction of greenhouse gases. These issues can and are being resolved. Modern turbines unlike those first installed 30 years ago at Altamont Pass, CA are more efficient, have a smaller prop spread and rotate more slowly. Siting must now take into account migration routes and patterns, bird nesting and feeding locations and general habitat. New design features are being developed that will discourage perching and approach to the towers. Most transmission lines are now buried beneath ground to eliminate electrocution by perching or collision. Wind Farms are an important part of a sustainable energy future but it is paramount they consider siting, scale and habitat before proceeding at any chosen site. The American Bird Conservancy supports wind energy and new farms if they meet this criteria.
Personally I prefer small localized installations and homestead applications but I am not going to be con-ed by the rhetoric surrounding larger farms that I have read so far.