The Wing Versus Wind Debate Takes Flight

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Last week the Interior Department released draft voluntary federal guidelines on the impacts of wind energy on wildlife. But neither the wind industry and bird conservationists are happy.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) today released a statement to say it cannot support the guidance on wildlife because it “deviates significantly from the consensus recommendations” that resulted from two years of debate.

AWEA fears the guidance will delay projects, add unforeseen costs, require operational changes and in general make planning and building more laborious. It says a great amount of power development and investment could be jeopardized by the new text.

The industry body said that wind power is less harmful to birds than communication towers, tall buildings, airplanes, vehicles, and other human-caused threats “including the conventional energy sources that wind power displaces”. It estimates wind turbines cause fewer than three out of every 100,000 human-related bird deaths in the United States.

Roads and vehicles are estimated to have killed 380,000,000 birds in 2005 only. Collisions with windows kill between 100,000,000 to one billion birds per year, according to a 2006 estimate.

Birds’ view

In response to the new guidelines, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) immediately released a statement saying these “will result in continued increases in bird deaths and habitat loss from wind farms across the country”.

“We had hoped that at the end of this multi-year, Interior Department process, we would see mandatory regulations that would provide a reasonable measure of restraint and control on a potentially very green energy source, but instead we get voluntary guidelines,” said ABC Vice-President Mike Parr.

“Bird deaths from wind power are the new inconvenient truth. The total number of birds killed and the amount of bird habitat lost will dramatically increase as wind power build-out continues across the country in a rush to meet federal renewable energy targets,” Parr added.

ABC says some of the most iconic and vulnerable American birds are at risk from wind industry expansion unless this expansion is carefully planned and implemented. Onshore endangered birds include Golden Eagles, Whooping Cranes, sage-grouse, prairie-chickens, and several migratory songbirds. Offshore wind turbines threaten Brown Pelicans, Northern Gannets, sea ducks, loons, and terns.

The organization said it’s not singling out the wind energy sector for criticism as it has active programs targeting threats to birds from pesticides, communication towers, buildings, cats, habitat loss and others. “Instead of attempting to dismiss threats to birds that they are responsible for, the wind industry should embrace steps to reduce those threats”, ABC told Just Means.

It added the wind industry should be subject to mandatory standards like the other energy industries. “Wind energy has the potential to be very green, but it is only smart if it is bird smart. That means the wind industry needs to put turbines where there aren’t high concentrations of birds, adopt existing technology to reduce bird mortality, mitigate unavoidable bird mortality and compensate for lost habitat”, the organization added.

The voluntary guidelines are an update of a 2003 version and are open to public comment for 90 days before a final version is concluded. For more information visit the Fish & Wildlife service’s website.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, appearing courtesy Justmeans.

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  • http://www.global-nrg.biz/blog Asaf Shalgi

    As much as I love birds, I think we can spare a few of them in the race for clean energy.

  • http://none Paul Preminger

    Birds are animals of habit to a certain extent; migration is usually along well defined paths. We need to stay out of these paths as much as possible.

    Birds along coastal areas tend to concentrate in estuaries where fresh water from rivers and streams are available; we need to avoid builing low level wind farms in these areas also.

    Most birds (grouse, prarie chickens, sparrows, robins, seagulls, cranes, etc) live and fly at levels below 100 metres most of the time except some fly higher when migrating so higher towers will encounter fewer birds.

    Higher towers will capture more energy so fewer HAWTs will be required for the same power generation capacity.

    It is very opbvious that the industry is ignoring the above facts because it is more profitable to sell HAWTs mounted on low towers than to sell bigger HAWTs on higher towers.

    Paul V. Preminger