WindAction Editorials

Bird mortality

Wind proponents regularly assert that bird mortality at wind energy sites averages at a low 2.3 birds per turbine per year. These collision figures were derived from outdated, and inadequate bird mortality studies conducted at land-based wind projects in western United States. William R. Evans, well-known ornithologist with expertise in nocturnal bird migration provided a critique of these studies in his 2004 testimony on the Chautauqua (NY) proposal ( ) where he states the Erickson, 2001 studies are "now widely seen as prematurely conceived." Evans continues, "the high mortality figures associated with cats and windows predominantly involve plentiful species that are common in suburban and residential neighborhoods or in the vicinity of farms, whereas the species killed at commercial wind turbine facilities and communications towers are largely neotropical migrant songbirds; species of conservation concern that nest in our wild lands." Recent bird mortality research from Europe ( ) found that collisions can vary substantially between sites with mortality as high as 103 to 309 birds/turbine/year. The researchers state that "[mortality] results of individual wind farms can not be generalized" but that "the collision mortality is mostly related to the number of (flying) birds present (at rotor height)". The Erickson numbers are inappropriately used by proponents to bolster their claims that pre-construction avian surveys are an unnecessary expense.
11 Sep 2007

Who pays for the infrastructure?

In the rush to legislate renewable energy mandates, state legislators failed to consider needed infrastructure. Onshore wind plants are typically built hundreds of miles from load centers in areas with little or no transmission. Now states are scrambling to socialize the cost of transmission, a cost normally borne by the generators. Burdening ratepayers with this is contrary to the rules and recommendations held by utility commissioners as recently as a few years ago. Comments to FERC by the New England Conference of Public Utilities Commissioners and the Vermont Department of Public Service ( ) make the point this way: "If a generator is not required to pay for transmission upgrades and the cost is instead to be socialized across all load, then generators will choose their location based on other factors, such as where land is cheaper or emissions permitting is easier, rather than where good transmission planning or market economics would dictate. On the other hand, if the cost of transmission associated with locating in these other areas were borne by the generators themselves, these economic tradeoffs would be internalized and economic location would be more likely to occur. As currently proposed, the costs are not borne by generators, which could lead to uneconomic grid expansion." Further skewing the economics, in the case of wind, 70% of the costly transmission line's capacity will be un-utilized.
4 Sep 2007

Economics and quality issues

In a July 9, 2007 Wall Street Journal article ( ), wind power was described as "basically a cottage industry, until recently", and the race to build wind facilities worldwide has created a turbine shortage. Manufacturing of the turbines, and their 8000 specialty parts, is being squeezed, raising prices and the potential for quality problems. Current reports from Germany ( ) detail quality problems with installed turbines, "...wind power providers and experts are now concerned. The facilities may not be as reliable and durable as producers claim... Fractures form along the rotors, or even in the foundation after only limited operation". Last week, a Siemens wind turbine at PPM's Kondike III site in Oregon collapsed killing one person and seriously injuring a second ( ).
27 Aug 2007

Eco-dream versus reality

Energy policymakers in Massachusetts, Delaware, and elsewhere see a future where 1000’s of giant wind turbines, blades reaching to 300-feet in length, will populate the deep waters off the U.S. coast from Maine to Cape Hatteras (NC) and beyond. They envision wind energy as the primary source of electricity for eastern population centers. The fickle nature of wind will be 'corrected' by building new onshore gas plants that generate during low wind conditions. Little has been voiced publicly about this eco-dream. Is it even possible using existing infrastructure? or will a new super-grid need to be created? How much of the enormous cost will be borne by the public? While money is being expended today, have there been policy and technical discussions reviewing the feasibility? There is very limited experience worldwide for deep-water wind development and none in the U.S. It's worth noting that the near-shore Cape Wind (MA) and LIPA (NY) projects, both heavily reliant on public subsidies and existing infrastructure, will each cost nearly a billion dollars to build. The one Texas offshore proposal, with subsidies, has been deemed economically unviable and scrapped by the developer.
20 Aug 2007
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