This past week and continuing across the Internet and mainstream media, the hazards to birds and bats at industrial wind farms are finally being recognized, questioned, studied and exposed.
This exposure, of course, has the wind industry in an uproar. Until now, they have done quite a successful job of spinning the harm to birds and bats by calling it a myth and pointing to irrelevant statistics on deaths to birds by house cats.
But now the science is coming into play and try as the wind industry might, this is an issue that has managed to extract itself from the spin it was in.
The National Academy of Science not only questioned wind industry claims of no significant hazard to birds and bats but they questioned claims of improvement to air quality and called for scientific study of both issues.
According to a New York Times article titled Wind Farms May Not Lower Air Pollution, Study Suggests the National Academy of Science found that “officials who will decide whether to build the turbines have few tools to measure the devices’ impact on air quality, on animals like birds and bats, and on wilderness preservation.”
“Even the scale of local damage from wind farms is unclear. Bats and raptors are thought to be the animals most threatened by wind turbines because they reproduce more slowly. But scientists base estimates on fairly primitive methods, like counting animal carcasses nearby and hoping that few have been carried off by animals, said Paul G. Risser, chairman of the academy’s study. “If 100 bats are killed, we don’t know whether that’s 100 out of 10 million or 100 out of 100 million,” Dr. Risser said.”
The National Research Council reported “policymakers need to better consider the overall impacts, such as the threat spinning blades pose to birds and bats” “The towers appear most dangerous to night-migrating songbirds, bats and some hunting birds, but not enough about the risks is known to draw conclusions”.
On May 1, 2007 Congress heard its first testimonies on the killing of birds and bats by wind turbines.
Deb Price of The Detroit News reports in her article Congress mulls bird kills by wind turbines:
“U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W. Va., warned that wind turbines in the Appalachian mountains of his home state have killed so many bats that they could become an endangered species.”
“Environmentalists, including those at the hearing, generally support wind-produced energy. But they want the federal government to require the wind industry to take precautions to minimize bird kills by, for example, locating the turbines away from migratory paths.
“Wind-energy developers are not going to voluntarily take all the steps that are reasonably necessary for the protection of wildlife,” Mollohan said, adding that West Virginia developers ignored calls for multi-year studies on the impact of turbines on bats before constructing new ones.
“These developers are for-profit corporations that, like any other, are answerable to their shareholders,” added Mollohan, who said developers have been given “a de facto exemption from the wildlife protection laws.”
The State of Maryland is a prime example of exempting the wind industry from wildlife protection laws.
A month ago, lawmakers from the State of Maryland agreed to a measure that will make it easier to build large wind power projects in Maryland by eliminating environmental reviews on the potential impacts to birds, bats, endangered species and habitat fragmentation which was a part of the Public Service Commissions approval process.
According to the Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation, these measures will “reduce environmental rights and reverse the concept of public involvement in the power-plant planning process”.
But, in a land mark decision making them National leaders on the issue, an order instituting investigation into the impact on birds and bats from wind farms has been issued from the State of California to establish guidelines and public input for wind farms.
“These voluntary guidelines provide information to help reduce impacts to birds andbats from new development or repowering of wind energy projects in California.They include recommendations on preliminary screening of proposed wind energyproject sites; assessing direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts to birds and bats inaccordance with state and federal laws; developing avoidance and minimizationmeasures; establishing appropriate compensatory mitigation; facilitating completionof the permitting process; and operations monitoring, analysis and reportingmethods.”
According to Donald Michael Fry, PhD, the Director of the Pesticides and Birds Program at the American Bird Conservancy, testimony to the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Oversight Hearing on: “Gone with the Wind: Impacts of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats”:
“The mortality at wind farms is significant, because many of the species most impacted are already in decline, and all sources of mortality contribute to the continuing decline.”
“The wind energy industry has been constructing and operating wind projects for almost 25 years with little state and federal oversight. They have rejected as either too costly or unproven techniques recommended by NWCC to reduce bird deaths. The wind industry ignores the expertise of state energy staff and the knowledgeable advice of Fish and Wildlife Service employees on ways to reduce or avoid bird and wildlife impacts.”
The National Audubon Society has endorsed wind power but qualifies it with the importance of “Location, location, location”.
However, choosing a location for industrial wind power plants might just prove to be challenging since both wind farms, birds and bats have shown to be attracted to those same locations which include endangered species habitat, vital migratory flyways, coastlines, mountain ridges and prairies.
By Dona Tracy
8 May 2007
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