Impact on Birds and USA
While corporate, municipal and utility interests favoring wind turbine development tend to minimize potential damage to birds, no convincing scientific studies support arguments that wind turbines in migration corridors are safe. Quite the contrary, mounting evidence suggests birds and bats are at risk of fatal collisions with turbine blades. In recent testimony before the U.S. Congress, Dr. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy concluded that by the year 2030 as many as 1.8 million birds per year could be killed by wind turbines.
Yet when the National Planning Committee (NPC) approved plans for building a wind turbine farm directly on the path of the migration flyway, SPNI came out in strong opposition..."Of the 90,000 birds migrating over, the flight path of roughly 10,000 passed directly through the air space where the wind turbines are planned. Obviously these birds would have been in great danger of collision with the blades," says Alon. Weekly surveys were conducted during the winter, and daily migration surveys resumed on March 1st, 2005. "During the spring of 2005, bird observers counted another 200,000 plus birds, mostly White Storks of which a minimum of 15,000 crossed over the proposed turbine farm within the range of the blades.
Last month the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the bald and golden eagles from the federal Endangered Species List.
While eagle populations have grown in every state, we also learned last month that five species of common birds in Pennsylvania are declining at an alarming rate.
According to Audubon Pennsylvania, the golden-winged warbler population has declined an astounding 98 percent since 1967, followed by the Eastern meadowlark (86 percent), wood thrush (62 percent), American bittern (59 percent) and ruffed grouse (22 percent).
Three of the species depend on forest habitats, one lives in wetlands and the fifth resides in agricultural areas.
Five different birds, three different habitats and they are all suffering. That's not good.
A House committee chairman from a coal-producing state backed away Wednesday from requiring regulations for the wind energy industry to protect birds and bats, rules the industry said would halt development of wind farms as an alternative to coal.
Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahal, D-W.Va., had put into an energy bill a requirement that the Interior Department regulate the siting and operation of energy wind turbines to ensure the safety of wildlife.
His action unleashed intense lobbying by the wind industry and renewable energy advocates, who argued that such restrictions would stop wind farm development at a time when wind is viewed as the most viable renewable alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power for producing electricity.
Birds and bats have a powerful advocate in the new Congress.
It's making people in the wind energy industry nervous.
Representative Nick Rahall is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Rahall is pushing legislation that would more strictly regulate wind energy to protect the birds and bats that are killed when they fly into wind turbines.
The wind-energy industry is objecting to federal legislation that seeks to protect birds and bats from wind turbines, arguing the measure would place unnecessary burdens on clean-energy projects.
The Energy Policy Reform and Revitalization Act, a wide-ranging energy bill introduced this month, would create new standards for the placement and construction of turbines and mandate post-construction monitoring of their effects on wildlife.
A scientific panel has concluded that new wind farms could generate up to 7 percent of U.S. electricity in 15 years. That's the positive side. The negative side is not good news for our fine feathered friends.
Each year, an estimated 2.5 billion birds are also killed inadvertently in the U.S. due to human activities. Such bird mortality includes collisions with lighted buildings and communication towers, pesticide poisoning, and free-roaming cat predation. Two million acres of bird habitat are also lost to development annually. New concerns over the potential impacts of climate change, especially among coastal, alpine, and Arctic bird species; as well as the spread of corn for biofuels which may replace vital bird habitats; and poorly placed wind farms that can kill thousands of birds are also causing serious concern. The combination of mass mortality and serious habitat loss poses a grave risk to many bird species across all regions and habitats.
Ducks in the Dakotas, tanagers in Texas and grosbeaks along the Gulf of Mexico could all be hit by the rapid growth of wind power unless the renewable electricity farms are carefully sited, experts said.
"The first three rules of avoiding impacts with wind turbines are always going to be location, location, location," Mike Daulton, a spokesman with the National Audubon Society, said in a telephone interview.
Clean-energy wind farms are cropping up rapidly in the United States on rising concerns about greenhouse gas carbon dioxide emissions and flat output of natural gas, which fires most of the power plants built since the 1990s. U.S. wind power is expected to increase by 26 percent in installed generation this year, after similar growth last year.
A study by the National Academy of Sciences released late this week found that wind energy could reduce the energy sector's carbon dioxide emissions by 4.5 percent by 2020.
But federal and state governments should take environmental impacts of wind energy more seriously as part of the planning, locating and regulating turbines, it said.
WASHINGTON - An unusual coalition of conservationists and coal advocates told Congress on Tuesday that before the nation continues its rapid expansion of wind power, an assessment is needed of how many bats and birds are maimed and killed by wind turbines' blades.
That study should be followed up with regulations to protect those species, witnesses told a House Natural Resources subcommittee.
An environmental group wants Congress to protect birds as part of new tax credits for wind energy currently under consideration.
The tax-writing committees on both sides of the hill are working on legislation to extend production tax credits for wind power and other renewable energy. Wind power advocates are pressing for the extension of the 1.9-cents-per-kilowatt-hour credit, which they say is crucial for projects to attract funding.
Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy will ask Congress today to be sure to link any federal tax credit or subsidy to a requirement that companies mitigate harm to federally protected migratory birds.
Fry is one of several bird advocates testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee today on wind power's effects on birds and bats. ‘Any renewal of the production tax credit for wind energy should include provisions that require developers follow best management practices in avoiding and minimizing bird and wildlife impacts, Fry said in a statement released yesterday.
In summary, there has been a great deal of discussion and very little action on the part of industry and the federal government to resolve bird and wildlife issues.
Bird populations at greatest risk include birds of prey and grassland songbirds.
Infrared monitoring shows that savvy seabirds steer clear of wind turbines.
Uncertainty surrounding wind power's impact on wildlife--particularly the potential for deadly collisions between birds and turbines--has tarnished its image and even delayed some wind farms. Indeed, the first large offshore wind farm proposed for U.S. waters--the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts's Nantucket Sound--has been held up in part by concerns that its 130 turbines could kill thousands of seabirds annually. Now a simple infrared collision-detection system developed by Denmark's National Environmental Research Institute is helping clear the air.
The Thermal Animal Detection System (TADS) is essentially a heat-activated infrared video camera that watches a wind turbine around the clock, recording deadly collisions much as a security camera captures crimes. The first results, released this winter as part of a comprehensive $15 million study of Denmark's large offshore wind farms, show seabirds to be remarkably adept at avoiding offshore installations. "There had been suggestions that enormous numbers of birds would be killed," says Robert Furness, a seabird specialist at the University of Glasgow, who chaired the study's scientific advisory panel. "There's a greater feeling now among European politicians that marine wind farms are not going to be a major ecological problem, and therefore going ahead with construction is not going to raise lots of political difficulties."
Despite a recent endorsement from the National Audubon Society and improvements in bird-friendly technology, there is still some opposition to wind power.
In a recent article, John Flicker, president of the NAS, told the American Wind Energy Association that Audubon “strongly supports wind power as a clean alternative energy source.” Research showing prospective effects of climate change on bird populations demonstrated a need for prevention, one approach being renewable energy. The NAS has acknowledged the possible advantages of wind, while still encouraging extensive preconstruction research; however organizations such as National Wind Watch and the Humane Society remain skeptical.
Is the pursuit of fewer dropped calls leading to more dropping birds?
The lights atop communications towers that warn pilots to stay away can have a come-hither effect on birds - killing millions of migrating warblers, thrushes and other species every year.
During bad weather, birds can mistake tower lights for the stars they use to navigate. They will circle a tower trancelike, often until they crash into the structure, its guy wires or other birds. Sometimes disoriented birds simply plummet to the ground from exhaustion.
Ongoing research in Norway adds weight to the idea that turbines and large birds don't mix.
In addition to the threat of collision, wind generators can also pose a risk to migratory birds and bats, he said. Especially dangerous is wind farm turbine configurations that create a "barrier effect." Airborne animals are more likely to come into peril when trying to pass a wall of turbines, rather than a single turbine or small-scale operation.
Predictions by bat experts that expanded industrial wind farms in West Virginia will increase numbers of disease-carrying mosquitoes and crop-destroying grasshoppers, locusts, and moths are not the only expected ecological consequences of expanded wind farms. Giant wind turbines take an even greater toll on birds, including many endangered species and birds of prey instrumental in controlling rodent populations, says the Heartland Institute.
A 2005 federal study that has so far received little attention warns that
oil and gas exploration in the untapped eastern Gulf of Mexico may have a
significant negative impact on migratory bird populations.
Editor's Note:While this article does not address wind turbines, it raises significant issues related to the potential adverse impact of off-shore windplants on migratory bird populations.