Jim Roth’s business viewpoint column (“Oklahoma wind power has vast potential,” May 8), provided food for thought. Indeed, there is a great deal of potential benefit in generating electrical power from wind resources in our state if all natural resource costs are taken into account.
Construction of the enormous infrastructure needed to transform wind energy into electricity and move the power to market can have profound negative impacts on native habitat and wildlife resources. Some direct mortality can occur when birds or bats collide with rotating turbine blades or lines and towers, but by far the greatest impact comes from the displacement of prairie species by the tall structures, roadways, power lines and other development features associated with wind power generation and transmission. Another threat is for species such as the lesser prairie-chicken, which has declined to teetering on the precipice of listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Unfragmented, native prairie habitat simply is in ever-decreasing supply. Agriculture, unsustainable grazing practices, oil and gas exploration and production, fire suppression, road construction, encroachment by eastern red cedar and other woody plant species, and now placement of wind power related infrastructure all have contributed to the widespread loss of our collective western Oklahoma natural heritage, and led to greatly decreased populations of sensitive, yet iconic wildlife species.
A partial solution to this dilemma does exist. By placing wind power related structures within already disturbed sites, much of the natural resource impact and cost can be avoided. Such enlightened action can entail some increased up-front economic expense. So, the question becomes one of foresight versus short-term, economic expediency and continued natural resource decline. The potential benefits of wind power are valid, so long as all costs are counted.
Jerry J. Brandbander, Tulsa
Editor’s note: Jerry J. Brandbander is a field supervisor with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.
25 May 2008
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