It’s a well known fact that wind energy turbines are bird killers.
If you’ve driven up I-65 or U.S. 41 heading to northwest Indiana and have seen the hundreds of giant wind turbines of the Fowler Ridge Farm spinning in Indiana’s prairie breezes, it’s hard to imagine a bird banging into or being struck by one of the blades. They don’t look to be spinning fast enough where a bird couldn’t avoid the blades.
Looks are deceiving. The tips of the blades are going almost 200 miles per hour. Additionally, though the towers themselves are marked with lights at night, the spinning blades aren’t and many birds migrate at night, using the stars as a navigation aid.
It will only get worse. The Department of Energy’s renewable energy plan for the U.S. calls for a 12-fold increase in wind-generating capacity by the year 2030.
Researchers estimated in 2012, existing wind energy turbines smacked down 600,000 birds. At that rate, if the 2030 goal is met and no changes in design or siting of wind farms instituted, over seven million birds will be sacrificed annually to produce green energy.
I agree with Dr. George Fenwick, President of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the nation’s leading bird conservation groups and a longtime advocate for stronger federal management of the wind industry. He said, “Wind energy is not green if it is killing hundreds of thousands of birds. We (the ABC) are pro-wind and pro-alternative energy, but development needs to be Bird Smart.”
Duke Energy and other wind power developers are aware of the problems their turbines cause to resident and migrating birds. However, the boundaries for the wind industry are voluntary, meaning that companies, so far, have been able to pay lip service to bird protection laws and then largely do what they want.
Poorly sited wind projects exist or are being planned that clearly ignore the advice of federal and state biologists, and there is not much anyone can do to preventing the poorly planned farms from being built.
Dead birds may litter the landscape under the turbines, but other than collecting the carcasses and keeping tally, nothing is being done.
The Department of Justice recently announced a settlement on the prosecution of Duke Energy for violating provisions of both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act at Duke’s Campbell Hill and Top of the World wind projects in Converse County, Wyo.
The charges stem from the discovery of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows.
The two projects are comprised of 176 large wind turbines sited on private agricultural land. The settlement amounted to $1 million in fines and mitigation actions.
This is the first prosecution of a wind company in connection with bird mortality. The unfortunate reality is that the flagrant violations of the law seen in this case are widespread.
All wind projects will kill some birds. It is sadly unavoidable, but it’s been proven some areas are worse than others.
Scientists can predict where the best and worst sites will be. The ABC, as well as scientists from leading universities, have developed risk assessment maps to provide general guidance on siting, though these maps are not replacements for project-specific environmental assessments.
In addition to proper siting, planned wind farms should have planned mitigation to offset the damage they will do to bird life during their life span. Mitigation would most likely be accomplished by the power companies purchasing, leasing or developing land or habitat sufficient to offset the number of birds they are likely to kill.
Coal, natural gas, nuclear and even hydroelectric plants have long operated with strict rules to protect the environment and mitigate unavoidable problems. There’s no reason wind industry should not be treated like other for-profit energy industries.
Mike Schoonveld had a 38 year career with the Indiana DNR as a wildlife biologist, and has been freelance writing on outdoor topics for local, state, regional and national publications for over 25 years. His column appears Tuesdays in the Journal Review.
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