Biologist Terry Maxwell, a wildlife authority with 31 years teaching experience at Angelo State University, discounts towering wind turbines as serious threats to West Texas birds.
Although he has conducted no field research on the subject, he has carefully studied published research and found no cause for concern.
“The bottom line on it is location, location, location,” said Maxwell, who writes a weekly nature column for the Standard-Times. “Some of these things are being put up in places that don’t seem to have any impact on wildlife. Others have an impact. That whole issue is location.”
He cited a couple of what he called “disasters” in California a few years back. Some early wind farms were erected in mountain passes, where migratory birds regularly fly in flocks. The turbines’ whirling blades – practically invisible at night – decimated eagles, falcons, hawks and other raptors.
Other wind farms in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S. destroyed large numbers of bats.
Birds also die flying into radio towers, whose lights can be fatal attractions.
“It’s hard for me to imagine a windmill turbine in Nolan County is going to have much impact,” Maxwell said.
He said research shows the number of birds killed by turbines is roughly equivalent to the number of birds hitting the windows of houses and breaking their necks.
“What most wildlife conservationists are really worried about is that coastal thing,” Maxwell said, describing plans to install offshore wind farms near Padre Island and elsewhere. “Before I pass judgment, I want to read the data for some proposed coastal sites. That’s where the concern is.”
Migratory birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico or hugging the coastline tend to concentrate, he said. Low-lying clouds and foggy conditions compound the problem with a huge “river of migrating birds,” Maxwell noted.
A consulting firm from Buffalo Gap, a small community south of Abilene, is hiring ASU graduate students to conduct field research in the Fort Stockton and Sweetwater areas. Developers want to know what birds are present in the areas where wind farms might locate.
Even though Maxwell has no complaint with wind farms as a scientist, he has serious reservations about them as a citizen.
“The figures I keep seeing show these things are unlikely to ever contribute more than 5 percent of the total energy needs,” he said. “What’s driving this thing – and has all the public support – is the chance for individual landowners to make money.”
“For the rest of us,” Maxwell said, “thinking how little impact on the North American (power) grid those things are likely to do, I shake my head and think, ‘This is a boondoggle.’
“I could be totally wrong because I am not an expert.”
By Perry Flippin
29 August 2007
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