Feds Give Wind Producers Free Pass to Kill Condors
By Karen Dove
Federal wildlife officials announced they will allow wind producers in California’s Tehachapi Mountains to kill endangered California condors without fear of prosecution. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the free pass will apply only when wind power companies inadvertently kill or harass the large and highly endangered birds, but such harassment and deaths are a foreseeable and unavoidable consequence of “green” wind power.
Recovering Condors at Risk
The California condor nearly went extinct in the 1970s and 1980s, with the number of wild birds bottoming out at 25 in 1975. Wild condor populations have rebounded to 150 today, but the species is still highly endangered.
Environmental Groups Outraged
Conservation and wildlife groups worry an expansion of wind power production in California condor habitat will reverse recent condor population gains and kill them as regularly as turbines kill protected golden eagles in California golden eagle habitat.
Environmental groups including the American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Audubon Society immediately criticized Fish and Wildlife’s decision to give wind power companies a free pass to kill endangered condors.
“Allowing the legal killing of one of the imperiled birds in the United States threatens endangered species conservation efforts across the country,” Kelly Fuller, a coordinator with the American Bird Conservancy, said in a press statement.
“I can’t believe the federal government is putting so much money into a historic and costly effort to establish a stable population of condors, and at the same time is issuing permits to kill them. Ludicrous,” Kerncrest Audubon treasurer Daniel Burnett told the Los Angeles Times.
Documented Environmental Destruction
California wind farms already present a killing field for endangered and protected birds. According to Save the Eagles International, more than 1,000 birds of prey die each year at California’s Altamont Pass wind farm. Wind turbines are already the leading cause of death for golden eagles in the Golden State, and conservationists point out condors are larger and less agile than golden eagles, putting them in even greater danger from fast-spinning turbine blades.
Environmentalists have documented environmental damage already being caused by wind turbines in the Tehachapi Mountain area.
“All of this industrialization has taken its toll on the ecosystem. The nearby Pine Tree Wind project has one of the highest rates of golden eagle mortality per turbine in the country, and Next Era’s North Sky River Wind project killed its first golden eagle in January – within weeks of beginning operations,” reported the Mojave Desert Blog.
“The Alta East Wind project is expected to add to eagle mortality, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) admits that too little is known about the golden eagle population in the Mojave Desert to know if the deaths will result in the protected species’ decline,” the Mojave Desert Blog added.
“The state of California allowing wind farms leeway in killing of condors and golden eagles flies in the face of reason,” said H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow for the National Center for Policy Analysis.
Burnett pointed out the hypocrisy of giving California wind turbines a free pass to kill birds by the thousands while the California legislature imposes onerous restrictions on other activities with much more speculative and indirect impact on birds in the state.
The California Senate just passed a bill to make the ban on lead ammunition a statewide law, to protect the very same animals turbines endanger,” Burnett explained.
“In the eyes of California legislators and the Obama administration, oil refineries can be – and are – fined billions of dollars for offenses against protected wildlife, but it is OK to kill protected animals for the ‘cause’ of green energy,” Burnett noted. “This is indicative of the administration’s near-religious fervor for renewable energy despite the fact that the government has wasted billions of dollars on failed green energy companies.”
Karen Dove (email@example.com) is a freelance writer in Bradenton, Florida.
Maryland Wind Farm Threatens Bald Eagles
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials report a proposed wind energy project in Maryland would pose a “significant risk to eagles” and the developer should trim back its construction plans. The U.S. Navy has also expressed concern about the project, noting the turbines might skew nearby radar readings.
At Least 30 Eagles at Risk
U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) biologists report at least 30 bald eagles nest within 10 miles of the proposed wind project. The proposed 60 turbines are too threatening to the eagles, and dozens could die each year, FWS wildlife officials say.
Also, the proposed Great Bay wind project in Somerset County is near enough the Patuxent River air base that Navy officials say the bounce-back from turbines will make it difficult to get accurate radar readings.
In response, Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy, which proposes to build the Great Bay wind project, is offering to cut back the number of turbines from 60 to 50.
“We are in the late stage development process of the project. For the past three years we have been studying the various aspects of project design,” said Pioneer Green Energy Vice President for Development Adam Cohen.
Cohen said he has also worked to minimize threats from “climate change and sea level rise on the Chesapeake Bay” and to “military operations in the area.”
High Costs for Minimal Power
But not all Marylanders are on board with the project.
Thomas Firey, a senior fellow with the Maryland Public Policy Institute and the author of an electricity primer for Maryland, says the project is rife with problems. Most notably, according to Firey, the project presents a questionable use of public funds to accomplish political, rather than practical or feasible, purposes.
“There are four different subsidies hidden in this,” Firey said, “and besides the explicit subsidy the legislature creates, it triggers others.”
Firey said for all the subsidies and preferential treatment, the project will generate “only a relatively small amount of electricity. It’s not going to have any effect on global warming….At best, [the project’s] meaningless. At worst, it puts Maryland residents on the hook for higher energy costs.”
Subsidies Make Situation Worse
Firey is not alone in expressing skepticism about the project. Jonathan Lesser, president of Continental Economics Inc., says wind power is not cost-efficient or economically feasible despite 35 years of subsidies. In addition, offshore wind developments are even more expensive than conventional wind projects, he says.
“Wind energy is not economic, … [and] subsidies do not work,” Lesser said. “Subsidies may decrease prices in the short run, but they drive out investment in the long run and create uncertainty, which leads to higher prices than would prevail without subsidies.”
“That’s free-lunch economics” and it doesn’t work, Lesser said. “And offshore wind is at least twice as costly as onshore wind. Regulators have had to resort to forcing utilities to purchase it.”
Cheryl Chumley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a news writer with The Washington Times.