Windmills Are Killing Our Birds


The subject of windmills killing birds has been discussed occasionally on the web for several years. Every time the subject gets popular, it suddenly seems to drop out of vogue to discuss. The argument is always that the bird fatalities are a fraction of other human activity and therefore not significant.

There is little doubt that windmills kill birds and bats. Their remains are found at the foot of windmills on a regular basis. Robert Bryce, the author of “Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of ‘Energy Independence‘”, “Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron“, and “Cronies: How Texas Business Became American Policy– and Brought Bush to Power” recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the wind energy industry is being held to a different standard than other energy companies.

It does seem true and plausible that “green” groups that love to go after oil and coal companies would turn a blind eye to “one of their own” such as wind farms. We all know that the courts are used to serve the self-interest of organizations as opposed to just being used to fairly apply the law. The real travesty here is that federal investigators that get pushed to pursue one energy company aren’t pushed to pursue all forms of law breakers.

A few interesting clips from the Wall Street Journal article:

On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.

ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.

Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.

A July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, Calif., estimated that its turbines kill an average of 80 golden eagles per year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, also estimated that about 10,000 birds—nearly all protected by the migratory bird act—are being whacked every year at Altamont.

Altamont’s turbines, located about 30 miles east of Oakland, Calif., kill more than 100 times as many birds as Exxon’s tanks, and they do so every year. But the Altamont Pass wind farm does not face the same threat of prosecution, even though the bird kills at Altamont have been repeatedly documented by biologists since the mid-1990s.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry’s trade association, each megawatt of installed wind-power results in the killing of between one and six birds per year. At the end of 2008, the U.S. had about 25,000 megawatts of wind turbines.

Why aren’t wind companies prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds? “The fix here is not easy or cheap,” Mr. Lee told me. He added that he doesn’t expect to see any prosecutions of the politically correct wind industry.

This is a double standard that more people—and not just bird lovers—should be paying attention to. In protecting America’s wildlife, federal law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the harm done by “green” energy.

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6 thoughts on “Windmills Are Killing Our Birds”

  1. LittleWolf says:

    It’s terrible that birds have to die for humans. But should we stop our wind movement because of it? Consider this: It’s estimated that:

    100-900+ million birds die each year from windows… so should we brick over all our windows?

    50-100 million from vehicles… so should we stay home and not drive anywhere?

    100+ million from cats… so should we kill all our felines?

    174 million from electric power lines… so should we tear them all down and go without power?

    So far the number of birds estimated to be killed by windmills is but a decimal point on the 100+ million birds harvested legally each year through hunting and agriculture.

    Everything has its cost. If we are really concerned about birds, then humans should consider leaving the planet, because we are definitely a scourge on the nature of things in many ways. But since that won’t happen…

    Going green and killing some birds in the process is better than continuing to rely on dirty energy from countries that want us dead. There are sacrifices to be made either way.

  2. admin says:

    I think I must have messed up the article in my attempt to abbreviate it. This was exactly the point of the article. Birds perish all the time due to man-made infrastructure. When it happens to certain industries (like oil and power utilities) they are often taken to court and end up facing huge fines in addition to court orders to minimize the impact. The point of the editorial was that the deaths of endangered or protected fowl were fairly numerous and yet those owners were not being held to the same standard as traditional industries. That is a double standard that is simply not fair – especially since wind power cannot make a significant on the nations energy use or carbon impact and some would argue that it is actually worse.

  3. tim maguire says:

    I think your presentation of the article was clear. It’s also clear that Littlewolf is just cutting and pasting an all purpose response written by someone else, probably an alternative energy interest group (I’m picturing a pamphlet with the convenient title “How to Respond to Wind Power Sceptics”).

    Even if the numbers are farily low, this is still a serious issue because of the number of endangered or protected birds involved. How many Golden Eagles fly into windows?

    How about a wire-mesh cage for the turbines? That wouldn’t cost much or weigh much and the techonology already exists. The only issue is the reduction in efficiency through wind blocking, but I’d bet that that could be minimized without too much ado.

    How about paint that takes advantage of bird’s ability to sense the infra-red spectrum to make the blades more obvious (instead of painting them the color of the sky) or otherwise complements birds’ natural navigation systems?

    They have options, but so long as the wind companies are protected from regulatory enforcement, those options won’t be explored.

  4. LittleWolf says:

    >It’s also clear that Littlewolf is just cutting and pasting an all purpose response written by someone else, probably an alternative energy interest group

    I’ll take that as a compliment. The numbers are from other sources, of course, but the words are all mine.

    I agree that all of the energy industries should be held to the same standards. Or if we decide we want to provide incentives to one industry over another (for example, tax breaks for solar energy panels) then it should be above-board and widely recognized that’s what we’re doing, not some hidden favoritism.

    I believe our country’s move toward green energy is both smart and essential for our economic future. Although some of our attempts so far have been missteps (corn-based biofuel, for example) at least we are finally heading in the right direction. A continued reliance on ever-dwindling supplies of fossil fuels sold to us by countries hoping for our destruction seems pretty short-sighted and stupid.

    Nuclear, solar, wind, waves, waste-based biofuel, hydrogen… these are all positive steps forward, even if they are economically inferior at this point.

  5. admin says:

    LittleWolf – you forgot to mention battery technology. Without better energy storage capability the other non-traditional fuels (I do not think nuclear is non-traditional – it just suffers from Not In MY Backyard Syndrome) have little benefit. Creating electricity for the times when the sun shines or the wind blows does almost nothing to reduce carbon footprint when it takes almost 24 hours for most electrical generation plants to get started. With our current level of technology, we would dump CO2 for coal plants that no one is using while paying more for inefficient wind or solar.

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