I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. So Wind Farms kill eagles. It’s not like we don’t kill beautiful endangered animals all the time. True, these are federally-protected and they’re an iconic symbol of our democracy. But hey, who minds using taxpayer dollars to kill a few icons?
I guess it’s the hypocrisy that galls. Under both the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Acts and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the death of a single eagle is a felony, and the Administration has prosecuted oil companies when birds drown in their oily facilities, and fined utilities when birds are electrocuted by their power lines.
But, come on, everyone hates oil companies. And who even knows what a utility is.
So the Interior Department can be forgiven for never fining or prosecuting a wind-energy company that repeatedly kills eagles. And we taxpayers can be forgiven for subsidizing them to the tune of a billion dollars a year.
According to an estimate published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin in March almost 600,000 birds are killed by wind farms in America each year, including over 80,000 raptors such as hawks and falcons and eagles (Wildlife Society). Even more bats die as their lungs are inverted by the negative pressures generated behind the 170 mile-per-hour spinning blades.
A wind industry spokesman countered by saying “We don’t kill as many as cars do.”
A paper published in the Journal of Raptor Research by Fish and Wildlife researchers really hit a nerve when it reported that wind energy facilities have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years. Because companies report eagle deaths voluntarily, the scientists said their figure is greatly underestimated.
Even worse, the study did not include the large wind farm at Altamont Pass in California that alone kills more than 60 eagles per year (NBC). In addition, the recently-approved construction of the nation’s largest wind farm in Wyoming would kill about 50 eagles each year, just by itself.
“It is not an isolated event that is restricted to one place…it is pretty widespread,” said Brian Millsap, the national raptor coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and one of the study’s authors.
Rarely discussed is the impact of wind farms on habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, and the large area of roads serving the farms (Wildlife Society). The physical footprint of human systems is one of the fundamental measures of environmental harm. We use it to assess the impact of roads, pipelines, airports and shopping centers. While we focus on the low carbon footprint of wind energy, we need to appreciate its enormous physical footprint.
The typical footprint assigned for a 1 MW wind turbine is 0.25 acres. However, this does not include the 5-10 turbine diameters of spacing required between wind turbines. This extra area is often cited as being useable for farming. But with respect to aerial ecosystems inhabited by birds, this area is not merely unuseable, it is deadly.
About 60 square miles of land covered with wind turbines is necessary to produce 1 billion kWhrs per year (NREL) but the affected area for birds is over 400 square miles. In contrast, it takes only 3 square miles of land for gas fired power plants, and less than 1 square mile for a nuclear plant, to produce the same amount of power. These include the land required for mining and drilling.
This is not a trivial difference. The large physical footprint represents probably the weakest point of wind energy. Every energy source has a drawback.
Maybe a few fines and prosecutions would spur the wind industry to take this issue more seriously, and address their Achilles’ heel. Wind really shouldn’t get a free pass just because they make a contribution to reducing carbon emissions. Hydro and nuclear make infinitely more contributions to reducing emissions and they don’t get a pass for anything.
The golden eagle, seen here, is even more at risk from turbines, with ten times the number of deaths at wind farms than the bald eagle. Photo credit: George Gentry, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Fortunately, the Audubon Society has come up with guidelines on how to site wind farms correctly to reduce the bird kills (Audubon), and State governments are beginning to take action (Huffington Post).
On the other hand, the White House is considering giving wind generators permission to kill a set number of eagles for the next 30 years, at the urging of wind-energy lobbyists. Unfortunately for eagles, such permission is not subject to an environmental review because it is only an administrative change.
BP was fined $100 million for harming migratory birds during the 2010 Gulf spill, and PacifiCorp paid $10 million in 2009 for electrocuting eagles along power lines and at its substations. Exxon Mobil pleaded guilty to killing birds and paid $600,000 to the State of Colorado.
Common, we just extended a $12 billion tax break for the wind industry (Tax Breaks), we don’t need this kind of shenanigans. Making an exception for one industry substantially weakens the government’s ability to enforce the law and has become an issue inside the Interior Department itself.
By James Conca, Forbes
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not do this for the electric utility industry or other industries,” Kevin Kritz, a government wildlife biologist in the Rocky Mountain region wrote in September of 2011. “Other industries will want to be judged on a similar standard.”
The Interior Department repeatedly overrules its experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service on the wind issue. The wind industry actually became part of the committee that drafted and edited the guidelines and pretty much got everything it wanted, including stripping law-enforcement agents in the field from having the authority to file charges with federal attorneys.
Wow! Just like Big Oil. I guess Wind has really arrived.
You know, it’s not the money. These fines are a pittance. It’s the idea that we don’t need to compromise one set of environmental principles for another.
Widespread implementation of wind farms is relatively new, and research and evaluation is only just beginning. Frantically taking advantage of wind construction/production tax credits before they disappear is not a good reason to harm this special ecosystem.
The Administration needs to care about this. Just like any technology, there are good places to build and bad places to build.
We need to build in the good places.