Apex Clean Energy is distributing a postcard in New York posing the question: “Do Wind Turbines Really Kill Birds?” Unfortunately, there is no doubt: They do.
American Bird Conservancy has major concerns about Apex’s plan to build 30, 585-foot tall wind turbines, with blades measuring 180 feet long, on Galloo Island in Lake Ontario. The island is a breeding area for Bald and Golden Eagles and other raptors, including Osprey, and is along a major bird migration route.
The postcard sent by Apex suggests that the number of wind-related fatalities is small compared to the overall number of bird deaths attributed to human activities. In the study they cite, the annual loss of birdlife to wind turbines is “only” 134,000 to 230,000. That study, conducted by Erickson and colleagues, can be seen at https://awwi.org/resources/small-passerine-fatality-synthesis/. The data cited by Apex sounds persuasive, but there are a number of serious problems with the conclusions they present. Basically, Apex is cherry-picking data to make its case. They are cloaking much larger losses by presenting a small and outdated subset.
The study Apex cited is just one of many that estimate bird casualties from wind turbines, and this particular report only looks at wind-related deaths among small passerines (perching birds or songbirds). It does not include raptors, waterbirds, waterfowl or game birds. The report also relies on information that is extremely outdated, including some statistics that are 18 years old. The wind energy landscape has changed dramatically in that time.
In 2000, there were just a handful of utility-scale turbines. That number has since increased to more than 54,000 turbines, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In addition to the turbines, think about the thousands of miles of transmission lines – another significant source of bird mortality –that were added to connect wind farms to the energy grid. In reality, the number of bird deaths annually from wind turbines is increasing dramatically.
American Bird Conservancy estimates the current annual number of bird fatalities at approximately 1 million (based on new, independent studies that use canines for improved carcass detection), and that figure is projected to grow to between 3 and 5 million annually by 2050, based on the expected growth of the wind energy industry.
The fact that there are other causes of bird mortality that kill more birds doesn’t mean that we should ignore the problems presented by wind turbines. That’s equivalent to saying that, because heart disease is the leading cause of human mortality in the United States, we should ignore the impact of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes or kidney disease. We must consider the cumulative effects of these different sources of human-caused bird fatalities given the impact that they have individually and cumulatively on the entire bird population in our country.
American Bird Conservancy supports a Bird-Smart wind energy policy that is designed to minimize bird fatalities. You can read more about Bird-Smart wind energy development here: https://abcbirds.org/program/wind-energy-and-birds/bird-smart-strategies.
Wind energy and birds can coexist, but only if turbines are sited properly. From the perspective of wildlife conservation, the Great Lakes are one of the worst possible places to put wind turbines because they comprise a Global Important Bird Area, defined by BirdLife International as a place of international significance for the conservation of birds and other biodiversity. During spring and fall, vast numbers of birds and bats, many of which migrate at night, gather along the shorelines and eventually fly along or over the lakes during their annual migration to and from the boreal forests of Canada, where they breed. The cumulative impact of the many existing and planned projects in the region is likely to be substantial.
Only through proper risk assessment, siting and post-construction monitoring can such conflicts with wildlife be avoided or minimized. At present, regulations governing siting are weak at best. Paid consultants to the wind industry conduct the risk assessments and collect and report post-construction mortality data, which is a direct conflict of interest. Some companies have sued to keep their data secret, making public oversight difficult, if not impossible.
New York residents should hold Apex Wind and the state accountable when it comes to open, honest and transparent risk assessments and reports of post-construction mortality data. This is the only way to ensure poorly sited projects do not advance, and that projects that do advance accurately address the true cost of mitigation.
In the case of wind energy, careful wind generation siting is crucial in order to prevent unintended impacts on America’s native bird species, and we are concerned that the proposed site for this project poses an unacceptably high risk to protected wildlife species.
Shawn Graff is vice president, Great Lakes Region, of the American Bird Conservancy. He is based in Wisconsin.
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