Entries in wind farm wildlife (50)
1/22/12 Wind company wants permission to kill golden and bald eagles, says the only reason endangered eagles are in the area is because of baiting by rural residents. USFWS disagrees.
Video of eagles in footprint of proposed wind project, Goodhue County, Minnesota
DNR, U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE CRITICIZE GOODHUE COUNTY WIND PROJECT
By Brett Boese
via The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN, postbulletin.com
Jan 20, 2012,
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has set the public hearing Feb. 2 for the Avian and Bat Protection Plan associated with the AWA Goodhue wind project.
The news was released Friday, one day after the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed separate paperwork challenging or disputing portions of the 127-page ABPP.
Approval of the plan is the final permitting hurdle National Wind, the project developer, must clear before it can begin constructing the 78-megawatt project; it has targeted June to break ground. The process, which includes a legal appeal proceeding concurrently, has taken almost three years.
The bird-and-bat plan, which was finalized in December and is among the first of its kind, has become the latest target of criticism.
A 12-page report by the USFWS and the five-page document from DNR that were posted to the PUC docket Thursday echo concerns that have been voiced for months by citizens, since Westwood Professional Services, the environmental agency hired by National Wind, identified no bald eagle activity within the project footprint in its initial report filed to the PUC in 2010.
“It’s almost like there might be a showdown between the DNR and (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife and Westwood,” said Rochester’s Mary Hartman, a project critic who has been the catalyst in identifying and verifying six to seven active bald eagle nests within the project footprint. “We were really well represented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the DNR. (It shows) our information was fair and accurate.”
Though officials from the DNR and USFWS did not return calls on Friday, both agencies appear to have issues with many of the plans and claims developed in National Wind’s document. For example, the plan specifically states that the USFWS has no recommendations for avoiding and minimizing impacts from wind turbines on bald eagle nests. In response, the service cited a 2003 guide that calls for a minimum two-mile setback from bald eagle nests and another document from 2007 that contains “explicit spatial buffer recommendations” around bald eagle nests and important eagle use areas.
Issues with eagles
Both agencies also took issue with how the ABPP used eagle baiting allegations to explain increased avian activity in the project footprint. National Wind claims its point count surveys have been “seriously compromised by an active baiting program being conducted by project opponents.” However, no landowner has been cited for baiting and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health has not drawn any correlation between carcass disposal and increased bald eagle activity.
“The service recommends AWA Wind analyzes the data they have collected, rather than attempt to extrapolate potential data,” wrote Tony Sullins, USFWS field supervisor.
Turbine shut downs were also recommended as a potential mitigation plan, while calls for clarification and more data were common — though bald eagle issues were most prevalent.
Across the United States, five bald eagle deaths have been reported in wind projects. The USFWS says information on those incidents cannot be shared because most are tied up in litigation.
It’s unclear if public comment will be allowed at the Feb. 2 PUC hearing. A PUC spokesman did not return calls on Friday.
Minnesota Public Utilities Commission meeting: 121 E. Seventh Place, Suite 350, St. Paul, 9:30 a.m. Feb. 2.
12/26/11 More evidence of negative health effects wind developers claim do not exist AND Getting away with murder: how green is a bird and bat killing machine?
STUDY: FALMOUTH TURBINES HURT ABUTTER'S HEALTH
By SEAN TEEHAN,
Via Cape Cod Times, www.capecodonline.com
December 26, 2011
FALMOUTH — A study released last week concludes wind turbines in Falmouth negatively affect abutters’ health.
The analysis was partially funded by a grant from Bruce McPherson, who opposes the Falmouth wind project and other turbine projects on Cape Cod. Its results assert that wind turbines cause “visceral” physical reactions and that sound waves from turbines are felt more intensely indoors than outside.
“We did not expect it,” said Stephen E. Ambrose, a Maine environmental sound consultant who co-authored The Bruce McPherson Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise Study.
Ambrose declined to release the amount he was paid but said he and a partner each spent about 800 hours on the study.
Ambrose and Robert W. Rand, who also specializes in sound studies, conducted their research over three days in April, Ambrose said.
The two former employees of Stone & Webster Inc., a Stoughton engineering firm that designs and builds power plants, have conducted peer reviews on acoustics from turbines for several towns in Massachusetts, Maine and Wyoming.
For this study, Ambrose and Rand lived in a house near Blacksmith Shop Road for three days while measuring pressure originating from infrasound. They documented the intensity of sound frequencies from a privately owned turbine in the Falmouth Technology Park and how their bodies responded to it. The turbine studied is roughly the size of Falmouth’s two municipal turbines.
When the two arrived at the house — located 1,700 feet from the turbine — on April 17, they began feeling effects within 20 minutes, according to the study. Both felt nausea, dizziness and anxiety, among other side effects.
They also reported having difficulty performing “normal activities” associated with the investigation, which included setting up instruments and observing measurements, the report states.
According to a chart included in the study, the discomfort and sick feelings intensified as wind speeds increased and the blades spun faster.
Previous sound studies that showed no negative health effects were done outdoors, Ambrose said. The recent study, which used low-frequency microphones to measure sound waves, showed sounds are more intense indoors than out. Data from this study showed a 10 dbG (a measurement for infrasound) increase outdoors and a 20 dbG increase indoors. The effect is similar to "living in a drum," he said.
An independent review of the acoustics data indicates it is scientifically valid, Nancy S. Timmerman, chairwoman of the Acoustical Society of America's Technical Committee on Noise, said in an email. She added that she can speak only to data on acoustics, not physiological effects reported in the study.
Jim Cummings, executive director of Acoustic Ecology Institute, another expert who looked at the study, said in an email the results could be a red flag on the correlation between infrasound and negative health effects, but more data are needed to establish proof.
"This is an indication, for sure, but a short sampling to base large claims on," Cummings wrote. "This and one other recent paper from the Association for Noise Control Engineers conference, Noise-Con, are both good indications that infrasound could be more problematic than generally assumed."
Falmouth Selectman Mary Pat Flynn, chairman of the board, said the study is one of many the board has received about wind turbines. Others show little or no harm caused by turbines, she said.
"We've had a number of studies sent to us, and they all have different points of view, and they all have different outcomes," Flynn said.
Ambrose and Rand's study comes as the state Department of Environmental Protection prepares itself for a sound study of the Falmouth-owned Wind 1 turbine. Environmental regulators agreed in September to conduct the study after Falmouth selectmen reached out to the department in September.
"It's still in the works, still under review," said Ed Coletta, a DEP spokesman. "We're hoping to get it done soon."
Last month selectmen announced the town would shut down the 1.64-megawatt Wind 1 — except during the tests — until April's town meeting. The town also plans to start up the Wind 2 turbine for 60 days, during which time officials plan to log complaints from residents.
The announcement came as a compromise after Wind 1 abutters filed a nonbinding town meeting article that asked selectmen to keep both turbines off until "mitigation options are fully explored and the existence of injurious conditions upon nearby residents can be qualified."
Wind 2, which has sat idle for about a year, could begin spinning for its trial period before mid-January, said Gerald Potamis, Falmouth's wastewater superintendent, who oversees the two municipal turbines.
Next month, Falmouth selectmen will choose a consultant to help advise the town on minimizing the impact of wind turbines on neighbors, Flynn said. Four firms were presented to selectmen during a meeting Dec. 19. The board will accept suggestions from residents until Jan. 4 and plans to choose one Jan. 9, Flynn said.
GROUP TARGETS WIND FARMS: ADVOCATES WANT STRICTER RULES TO PREVENT BIRD DEATHS
by Cody Winchester,
December 26, 2011
“Developers typically build at the site they’ve chosen, regardless of wildlife concerns,” she said. “We’ve written letters stating the proposed location is likely to have high wildlife impacts … but the projects were constructed (anyway).”
As the Obama administration moves on a plan to speed permitting of wind projects in the Great Plains, a major bird conservation group is asking the government to enact stricter standards for wind energy development.
The American Bird Conservancy has formally petitioned the Department of the Interior to develop mandatory siting rules for wind projects, claiming that existing guidelines, which are voluntary, constitute a “counterproductive and almost certainly unlawful approach” to enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
“Most wind energy projects that are already in operation are in ongoing violation” of the act, since most birds killed at wind farms are protected, the petition says. The conservancy group alleges a “systemic failure” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce the law.
The conflict highlights an ongoing tension between conservationists and a rapidly expanding industry seen as the linchpin of a clean energy future – although the petitioners also note that climate change driven by the combustion of fossil fuels “indisputably poses an unprecedented threat to species and ecosystems.”
Fueling the conflict is territory overlap: Windy corridors that are prime candidates for energy projects also tend to be migratory flyways. With the growth of the industry in wind-rich states such as South Dakota, conservationists are worried not only about collisions with turbines and power lines but further fragmentation of a habitat already under pressure from urban and agricultural expansion.
“There are impacts beyond the towers sticking up out there,” said K.C. Jensen, an associate professor of wildlife management at South Dakota State University.
Federal officials have worked for years to develop siting standards for wind projects and earlier this year released a set of draft guidelines. As the guidelines evolved, the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, accused Fish and Wildlife of trying to “impose new guidelines that are not based on sound science.” But the American Bird Conservancy says the guidelines were in fact crippled by pressure from a federal advisory board dominated by industry.
“At first we were optimistic,” said Kelly Fuller, the conservancy’s wind campaign coordinator. “But over the last year, our view has changed. We have seen drafts of the guidelines repeatedly weakened under industry pressure. We’ve seen Fish and Wildlife Service abandon much of what its own scientific experts wrote, and so we felt that we now have to respond to this worsening situation.”
The group wants the rules strengthened and made mandatory, so wind developers would have to obtain a permit that specifically considers the project’s effects on migratory birds before beginning construction.
Such a permitting scheme would give the industry greater certainty, since wind developers are technically in violation of federal law every time a migratory bird is killed at a wind installation, said Shruti Sharesh, an environmental lawyer who filed the petition on behalf of the conservancy.
“On the one hand, we have the federal government promoting wind industry,” Sharesh said. “And on the other hand, we have a situation where both the government and the industry is well aware … (of) widespread violation of federal wildlife law.”
But Ron Rebenitsch, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, argued that the opposite is true. He said new regulations would create greater uncertainty and make it more difficult to plan wind projects, which already require significant up-front financing and can take years to approve.
“This is not a good thing for wind,” he said. “I would be very cautious about how the rules are developed.”
The industry takes pains to minimize harm to wildlife, Rebenitsch said, adding that concerns about bird strikes are overblown.
“There has never been a recorded instance of a whooping crane impacting a turbine,” he said. “A whooping crane could fly into a building. … Do you shut down the industry (for the sake of birds)? That’s a very real concern.”
Rebenitsch said the number of birds killed at wind farms is inconsequential compared with the number killed by cats, windows and other causes related to human activity.
Fish and Wildlife already has a mechanism for permitting “take” of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws, but not for migratory birds.
The conservancy group says this “legal anomaly,” coupled with the lack of enforcement by Fish and Wildlife, is unfair: Oil companies are prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when birds fly into oil sump pits and die, the group argues. Why should wind energy be exempt?
Developers ‘build where they want’
On its website, the South Dakota Wind Energy Association urges developers to “consult the environmental and cultural offices in the state as early as possible” and provides contact information for each office.
But this doesn’t always happen, said Natalie Gates, a biologist in the migratory bird program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife ecological services field office in Pierre.
Sometimes, developers contact Gates about a new wind project as a courtesy. Most of the time, however, she hears about proposals from other federal agencies that need input on how the project would affect endangered species.
“Some developers are more conscientious than others,” she said. “Some work with us a little and some ignore us entirely. All tend to build where they want.”
Once her office knows where the company intends to build the project, Gates sends a comment letter outlining the agency’s concerns about habitat and wildlife populations, and typically she requests that the company undertake a baseline study of birds and bats in the area.
“Sometimes when I write a letter like that, I never hear back from the company,” she said.
Some companies hire consultants to collect pre- and postconstruction figures on bird and bat mortality, and this data can be helpful to wildlife agencies, Gates said. But a suggestion to avoid sensitive habitat “seems to get no traction with developers,” she said.
“Developers typically build at the site they’ve chosen, regardless of wildlife concerns,” she said. “We’ve written letters stating the proposed location is likely to have high wildlife impacts … but the projects were constructed (anyway).”
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks also has guidelines for wind projects, and the agency’s wildlife biologists have provided expert testimony at hearings before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which issues siting permits for wind projects.
The commission carefully considers the input of wildlife experts when issuing rulings and crafting permit conditions, PUC Chairman Gary Hanson said.
Hanson, who has served on the governing board of the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative, is concerned about whooping crane numbers and would not necessarily oppose stricter federal guidelines for siting.
Fed’s plan would fast-track projects
The Interior Department, meanwhile, is developing a plan to fast-track wind projects in the Great Plains by allowing developers to go through the federal permitting process en masse.
The 200-mile-wide development corridor would follow the central flyway of the endangered whooping crane, which has a wild population in the low hundreds, from Canada to the Texas coast.
A consortium of wind energy companies, including Iberdrola Renewables and NextEra Energy Resources, which operate wind farms in South Dakota, would be granted incidental take permits in exchange for offsetting the losses with conservation efforts elsewhere. Fish and Wildlife still is hammering out the details.
Determining bird kill numbers a tough task
Estimates of birds killed at wind installations vary, and federal field agents face numerous obstacles in gathering accurate numbers.
“The (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) has no way of obtaining on a regular basis crucial information about birds and bats being killed at these projects,” said Shruti Sharesh, a lawyer at Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal, an environmental law firm .
The conservancy group partly blames this problem on confidentiality agreements between wind developers and private wildlife consultants, which can can make data sharing problematic.
In September, the Argus Leader submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to U.S. Fish and Wildlife asking for records of migratory birds killed by power lines or wind energy projects in South Dakota.
The agency returned a packet of investigative reports detailing 15 bird kills in North and South Dakota since 2008, all of them power line strikes.
This doesn’t mean there were no bird strikes or electrocutions prior to 2008, just that they weren’t necessarily entered into the agency’s computer system, said Rich Grosz, the resident agent in charge of the Office of Law Enforcement for the Dakotas.
Until recently, South Dakota had only one or two field agents, and Grosz said the agency is “completely dependent on the public” to notify it of bird electrocutions. In any case, further investigation may show that the bird died from other means, in which case the agency would not pursue an investigation.
12/22/11 Columbia County wind project comes on line AND Vesta's wishes you a Merry Christmas by throwing bus-sized iceballs from animated turbines AND Wisconsin Citizens Safe Wind Siting Guidelines released via PSC website AND Eagle nests and residents homes: two things wind developers couldn't care less about
New wind project goes on line in Columbia County, Wisconsin
Next Feature: Merry Christmas greeting from turbine makers Vestas includes the special message of animated wind turbines throwing bus-sized ice balls.
Wisconsin Citizens Safe Wind Siting Guidelines Proposed as Basis for Revising Wisconsin's Wind Siting Rules
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW), in accordance with Act 40, has developed a set of wind siting rules which are to govern industrial wind turbine siting throughout the State of Wisconsin. These rules are know as PSC 128. All local wind ordinances will have to conform to the standards put forth by the State. After a hearing at which concerned Wisconsin residents gave testimony for 9 hours, the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) voted on March 1, 2011 to suspend PSC 128, stating that they did so...
"...on the basis of testimony received at its February 9, 2011 meeting, and on the grounds that the contents of Ch. PSC 128 create an emergency relating to public health, safety, or welfare; are arbitrary and capricious; and impose an undue hardship on landowners and residents adjacent to wind turbine sites..."
PSC 128 has been suspended ever since and the PSCW is still awaiting direction from the legislature on what to do. So far no bills have been passed specifying changes to PSC 128, although there is currently such a bill in committee. If nothing is done by the end of the legislative session, PSC 128 becomes law creating the very same public health emergency that the JCRAR suspension sought to prevent. There are gross deficiencies in the PSC 128 rules, deficiencies which have led to many Wisconsin residents suffering ill health effects. In several cases, living conditions have become so unbearable that families have abandoned their homes to regain their health.
This prompted a coalition of concerned citizen groups from across the state to draft the Wisconsin Citizens Safe Wind Siting Guidelines. These Guidelines provide legislators and the PSCW with a SCIENCE BASED set of recommended standards to be used in revising the arbitrary and already outdated PSCW wind siting rules (PSC 128) - including the much needed health, safety, and property protections for Wisconsin residents. These Guidelines are based on fact, based on science, and based on the real-life experience of Wisconsin families and others from around the world. The standards proposed are supported by a library of documentation, shown in the reference section following the Guidelines.
You are invited to read the Guidelines and then to write to your legislators, asking them to support and use them in drafting new wind siting rules for Wisconsin. You may see the Wisconsin Citizens Safe Wind Siting Guidelines here:
CLICK HERE to watch Dr. Nina Pierpont, PhD (Princeton), MD (Johns Hopkins), interviews acoustician Stephen Ambrose on his work. She asks him about the strange malady that plagued him after he went to work taking sound measurements at a house near a 1.65-MW Vestas wind turbine where the residents were complaining of bad health since the turbine went on line. He tells Dr. Pierpont that even while setting up in the house he began to feel strangely unwell, as did his co-worker. Something is happening to these people who live close to turbines to make them feel ill and it is a mystery he would like to solve.
PROPOSED WIND ENERGY PLANS COULD HARM MINNESOTA'S EAGLE COUNTRY
By Dave Berggren
GOODHUE COUNTY, Minn. - Look along the tree line in rural Goodhue County and you'll see why so many are upset.
"This area is a habitat for eagles, hawks and other raptors," says Mary Hartman. "I'm all for addressing energy issues, but we need to do it sensibly."
Minneapolis-based National Wind is the developer and the project is called "Goodhue Wind." The plan is to place 50 wind turbines across 32,000 acres of county land, but some folks say the proposed "footprint" for the project interferes with eagle habitat.
"Eagles fly and hunt at the same height of these turbines," says Hartman, a resident who opposes the plan. "I'm not aware of any other project where they are siting wind energy smack through the center of nesting bald eagle habitat."
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the "Goodhue Wind" plan and construction could begin in the spring. However, it's not just residents who oppose the project.
"The Public Utilities Commission, which decided this project should go forward, didn't seriously look at the avian study," says County Commissioner Ron Allen. "They just blew through it and went on with what they want to do which is put these things up wherever they can put them."
Allen also says this issue is a "divisive" one and that Goodhue County is too populated for a project like the one proposed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends wind turbines to be at least two miles from eagle nesting areas, however, concerned citizens who spoke to KARE 11 say the wind power plan will break up migration patterns, harm nests, and even injure or kill eagles and other raptors.
Attempts to contact the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the project developer were unsuccessful, but KARE 11 will continue to follow the story.
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will host a Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee meeting via teleconference and webcast on August 23. This meeting is open to the public, but registration is required. The meeting will take place on August 23, from 1 to 5 p.m. Eastern Time. If you are a member of the public wishing to participate in the meeting via telephone or webcast, you must register online by August 16, 2011.
Please visit www.fws.gov/windenergy <http://www.fws.gov/windenergy> to register.
For the full meeting announcement, please see the Federal Register notice: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-08-08/pdf/2011-19972. <http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-08-08/pdf/2011-19972.pdf> pdf
'CLEAN' POWER, LIKE OIL, IS BIG BUSINESS- AND MUST OBEY THE SAME RULES
August 8, 2011,
Imagine the U.S. government had asked the oil industry to observe “voluntary” environmental guidelines to protect wildlife — and then imagine that the oil companies were so upset by how burdensome these “voluntary” guidelines were that they were allowed to substantially rewrite them. Of course, this is the kind of dystopian conspiracy that many people imagine already occurs when commercial interests collide with conservation and ecology. What’s remarkable though, is that this is precisely what the U.S. government is allowing to happen with the wind power industry, and not the oil companies — or any other fossil fuel utility.
Last week saw public comments close on the debate over the Department of the Interior and the “voluntary” regulation of Big Wind. Why does Big Wind need regulation? Because wind turbines are highly effective bird-killing machines: stick a 4,000-acre wind farm in the wrong spot and it’s an ecosystem-destroying splat fest.
If there is a capital of wind-turbine avicide, the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in central California might well be it. Between 1998 and 2001, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory tried to quantify the impact of this vast wind farm, which extends over 50,000 acres, on bird life. It concluded that up to 4,300 birds were killed each year, including 27 to 34 golden eagles. A later, more extensive study of the farm, while noting the uncertainties in measuring bird kills, postulated even higher numbers.
The problem is not just collision — when you add in factors like habitat loss and fragmentation, barrier effects (such as a farm disrupting local or migratory flight paths) and noise, the annual tally of bird deaths caused by wind power is estimated at 440,000 a year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But while fossil fuel utility companies are subjected to mandatory conservation rules and are aggressively prosecuted for killing protected species, Big Wind just has to look like it’s trying to be bird-friendly. As the Wildlife Service notes, following the voluntary guidelines will be “taken as evidence of due care,” and even if legally protected species are killed, “caring” means the companies may still be able to dodge the massive fines that have been imposed on careless oil and coal companies.
As Robert Bryce, energy journalist and author of “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future,” told me, “Violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act — which, by the way, is one of the oldest wildlife protection laws in America – have long been prosecuted without regard for whether the bird kills in question were intentional or not. Imagine if the U.S. Justice Department suddenly decided that enforcement and compliance with federal laws on cocaine trafficking were now to be considered ‘voluntary.’”
Many bird conservation groups are, not surprisingly, furious over this regulatory farce: It’s not just that they believe Big Wind should be subjected to mandatory regulation like every other utility, it’s that Big Wind should not get to write its own regulations.
As Kelly Fuller, an American Bird Conservancy expert on wind power, explained, the first set of “voluntary guidelines” was gutted to take out many of the specific proposal that would actually protect birds. “It is of real concern to the American Bird Conservancy that the earlier draft, written by experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service, has had most of its content replaced with material that came from an industry-dominated panel,” she said. “No other energy sector is allowed to write its own regulations — at least not without people getting upset when they find out about it.”
Despite this, some on the left have tried to portray the outrage as a Republican plot against renewable energy. Media Matters recently claimed that while there have been “a number of wildlife deaths … wind turbines provide more benefit to the environment than they do harm to wildlife.”
When I asked Fuller whether the American Bird Conservancy considered itself part of a Republican smear operation, she stressed that the organization was nonpartisan, and that other conservation and scientific groups that favor mandatory standards for wind power, such as the American Birding Association and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, were hardly political fronts.
Of course, the threat to wildlife from wind power does overlap with intense criticism of wind as a massively inefficient energy source (because it needs to be backed by conventional power and so forth), so it’s hardly surprising that Republicans are quick to accuse wind power advocates of “do as I say, not as I do,” hypocrisy; but that shouldn’t blind the public to a rather more basic economic truth: Wind power is not about mom-and-pop-shop environmentalists sticking up a couple of turbines on a mountaintop, it’s about massive companies like BP Alternative Energy building vast wind farms. When it comes to environmental impact, why should BP’s alternative energy division be held to lesser standards than BP’s petroleum division?
What’s good for the goose is good for everyone; namely, that the law should be applied equally.
BATS AND BIRDS FACE SERIOUS THREATS FROM GROWTH OF WIND ENERGY
SOURCE: New York Times
August 8, 2009
By Umair Irfan
Spinning blades and fluttering wings are clashing more frequently as greater numbers of wind turbines are installed throughout the United States and the world. The generators can top 400 feet tall, have blades turning at 160 miles per hour and can number in the dozens over hundreds of acres. They are part of America’s expanding renewable energy portfolio.
But the same breezes that push the blades are the playground of hundreds of species of birds and bats, and to them, the turbines are giant horizontal blenders.
With wind being one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world, turbines are generating electricity along with friction between different environmental interests as advocates seek a compromise between the demand for clean renewable energy and the safety of animals.
Wind provides 198 gigawatts of electricity worldwide, with 39 GW of new capacity added just last year, according to the Renewables 2011 Global Status Report (GSR) by REN21, an international renewable energy proponent. “Commercial wind power now operates in at least 83 countries, up from just a handful of countries in the 1990s,” said Janet Sawin, research director and lead author of the GSR, in an email.
The report notes that for the first time, wind power is growing more in developing countries than industrialized nations, led by emerging markets like China, which accounted for half of the global capacity increase last year. In addition, the European Wind Energy Association projects that wind energy employment will double by 2020 in the European Union.
However, the rapid growth and expansion of wind farms has had an increasingly significant effect on birds and bats, especially since, according to the GSR, the average wind turbine size has increased. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC), an avian conservation group, observes that upward of 14 birds per megawatt of wind energy are killed each year, numbering more than 440,000. The organization projects the number will rise substantially as wind energy production increases.
Killing mechanisms are different
Yet it’s hard to determine how bird populations will respond to turbines. “It’s very difficult to say what the impact on birds is … particularly migratory birds,” said David Cottingham, senior adviser to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Thus, the economic and environmental fallout may not be seen right away, said Cottingham.
According to FWS, birds are killed when they collide directly with turbine blades. Statistics show more birds are killed by cats and windows, to the tune of hundreds of millions. But turbines pose a unique threat to all birds, including endangered species, like whooping cranes, and raptors, like eagles, hawks and falcons.
Electrical infrastructure around turbines, like power lines, also poses hazards to birds, said FWS in a report on bird mortality.
Bats, on the other hand, face different problems around wind farms. “Many more bats than birds are killed by wind turbines, and they are killed in two ways: simply by being hit by the blades, and some are killed by pressure changes due to the sweep of the blades without even being hit,” said John Whitaker Jr., a professor of biology and director of the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation at Indiana State University, in an email.
Because bats use sound to navigate and can detect moving objects, like insects, exceptionally well, many are better able than birds to avoid striking the blades. However, they can’t detect the invisible swath of low pressure left behind turning blades. Bats then fly into this area, and their internal airways rapidly expand, causing internal bleeding.
This phenomenon, known as barotrauma, accounts for more than half of all turbine-related fatalities in bats, according to a 2008 paper in the journal Current Biology.
The die-off is troubling because bat populations are already under stress from white nose syndrome, a spreading epidemic fungal infection that kills more than a million bats annually. This is exacerbated by bats’ slow reproductive rate and decades-long life expectancy, meaning populations are slow to recover.
“The hibernating bats are being killed by white nose syndrome, whereas it is the migratory bats — red, hoary and silver-haired bats — that are being killed by wind farms,” said Whitaker. “The kill of these bats is going to be huge.”
Bat die-off costly to farmers
Bat deaths also carry substantial economic consequences. Because of their voracious appetite for insects, bats are excellent for natural pest control. A paper published in the journal Science in March said bats typically save farmers $74 per acre, and the study projects that bat deaths can cost $3.7 billion annually in crop losses.
The solutions, according to FWS, are planning, mitigation and offsets. “We’re trying to figure out how to work with industry so you can have both renewable energy and do it in a way to protect birds, particularly those birds that are endangered species,” said Jerome Ford, director for the migratory birds program at FWS.
Ford said substantial conflicts can be avoided if wind farms are placed away from flying animals by studying wind and migration patterns.
Active deterrence, using tools like radar, is also being studied, but it can create other potential issues. “You want the birds to avoid the area to avoid injury, but you don’t want them to avoid the areas if it leads to habitat fragmentation,” said Cottingham. The FWS is also investigating vertical axis turbines, which take up less airspace and are potentially less harmful to birds and bats.
Cottingham and Ford did acknowledge that despite their best efforts, wildlife will still be at risk, including endangered species. The FWS has allowed wind energy companies to “take” a certain number of endangered animals without fines or penalties, provided they offset the harm with habitat restoration. “Take” is defined as maiming or killing under the Endangered Species Act.
Feathers fly over new guidelines
Last month, FWS released another draft of its wind energy guidelines. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a wind industry advocacy group, expressed approval for the new document. Tom Vinson, AWEA’s senior director of federal regulatory affairs, described it as an “extraordinary achievement.”
The ABC, on the other hand, was aghast. The revised guidelines removed much of the previous language about protecting birds as well as other suggested measures to protect wildlife, and what little remained is voluntary, said Bob Johns, director of public relations for the ABC.
“What’s difficult to overlook is the number of times the word ‘should’ is used,” said Johns. “There is no reference to ‘must’ and ‘shall.’”
However, the ABC is still in favor of wind power. “We are a supporter of wind,” said Johns. “We think it has the potential to be very green. All we’re saying is do it right. It’s not hard to do. There are a limited number of sites where [harm to wildlife] would be an issue.”
Through working with the government and industry groups, the ABC hopes it is not just tilting at windmills, but that eventually there will be binding regulations to protect bald eagles and little brown bats while reducing American dependence on fossil fuels.