Rising Bird Death Rates: Is Wind Energy Really Sustainable?
As many parts of the world continue to push for alternate energy sources and less dependence on oil, there is rising concern that wind energy is actually not too good for the environment. The fact that wind farms can generate electricity without producing any emissions often overshadows its problems, such as the number of birds and other flying animals killed or injured from colliding with wind turbines and its physical appearance and noise that many people consider to be bothersome.
For instance, a wind farm in Southern California could be facing legal issues. Because of the increasing death rate of birds near the facility, investigations have begun recently on the Pine Tree Wind Project headed by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The 120-megawatt facility occupies 8,000 acres of land in the Tehachapi Mountains and is blamed for the deaths of many migratory birds, including a number of endangered golden eagles which are protected under the Endangered Species Act and could make Pine Tree the first ever wind farm to be charged under the Act.
In June 2010, the DWP conducted an internal study and concluded that the death rates of birds at Pine Tree were “relatively high” compared with 45 other wind energy plants in the country.
Other than activists, residents also have complaints with wind turbines. With blades that can be as long as a football field, many consider them to be a huge eyesore. Additionally, they generate a considerable amount of noise.
In the Bay Area, wind turbines also have a bad image to animal activists and residents. Providing thousands of nearby homes with clean, wind generated electricity since the 1980s, the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area also causes a significant amount of bird deaths. Having 5,000 wind turbines, the wind farm at Altamont Pass causes about 67 golden eagle deaths a year. However, the much smaller Pine Tree wind farm and its 90 turbines has a higher death rate per turbine; about 3 times greater than the Altamont Pass wind farm.
Although high bird mortality rates is one of the most detrimental impacts wind turbines have, governments have been rather slow to address the problem. Says Shawn Smallwood, an expert on raptor ecology, “Wind farms have been killing birds for decades and law enforcement has done nothing about it.” Perhaps the reason for the government’s slow action is the push for renewable energy sources. In April, California governor Jerry Brown passed a law requiring a third of electricity used in the state to come from renewable sources, including wind, by 2020. The new law is the most aggressive of any state in the US.
A possible solution to ease the damage to migrating birds is to shut down wind farms during migrating seasons. TransAlta Corpopration in Ontario, Canada has been urged by activists to turn off wind turbines during the summer and early fall, which are considered “high-risk periods.” Says Ted Cheskey, of Nature Canada,“That period is when the vast majority of birds seem to be killed. The evidence is there, and now there is an obligation for [TransAlta] to act.”
Cheskey also accuses TransAlta that their turbines cause about 1,500 bird and 3,800 bat deaths each year. However, TransAlta claims their wind farm stays within the allowable number of bird and bat deaths. Says Glen Whelan, TransAlta’s manager of public affairs, although “bird and bat mortality is unfortunately inevitable at wind power facilities, we are seeing numbers that are within the ranges that are called for by regulators.”
According to the Wildlife Service, 440,000 birds are killed each year by turbines at wind farms nationwide. Even though wind energy is a clean alternative to oil, is it really a clean source of energy if it causes this much damage to bird populations?
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/clairegribbin/2210390576/