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Posts Tagged ‘bird mortality’

Bits and Pieces: Two Misguided Attacks on Wind Turbines and Electric Cars

Sun ,25/05/2014

There were two op-ed pieces in the May 25, 2014 Tulsa World which were misguided attacks on renewable energy and electric cars.

The first was titled “The Killing Fields”, with the subheading “Perverse federal energy incentive is a threat to birds, bats.” The article was written by Dr. George Fenwick who is the president of the American Bird Conservancy. The article was illustrated by an Associated Press photo which shows cattle standing in front of a windfarm in a drought prone area of Texas. It well illustrated flaws in Dr. Fenwick’s reasoning, he is more concerned about the wind turbines than about a much greater threat to bird populations.

While Dr. Fenwick had some good points in the article about the value of birds and our need to conserve them, the sensationalized article missed the greatest threat to birds. He complained about the federal production tax credit which encourages the development of wind energy, about allowing exception to the Endangered Species Act, and about siting of wind farms in sensitive areas. Wind developers are already avoiding sensitive areas and they have changed the design of wind turbines so they would be less of a threat to birds. He should have been more concerned about the bigger threats to bird populations, which are severe weather and the destruction of habitat, both made worse by global warming. Delaying the construction of wind turbines will certainly lead to more carbon emissions, making global warming more of a problem

Research shows that wind turbines are not among the top 10 human causes of bird mortality – and windfarms are likely saving HPIM2053amany more birds than they are killing. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, and electricity transmission and distribution lines.  A related peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality found that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. They concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as quickly as possible. If Dr. Fenwick’s sensationalized articles about “The Killing Fields” keeps us from developing renewable energy as quickly as possible, then he is working against the birds, and his own, best interest.

The second article, “Driving greener cars won’t save the Earth” by Megan McArdle essentially says efforts are futile to reduce our carbon emissions. She belittles her friend for buying an electric car and goes on that Americans are likely to do nothing significant to reduce our carbon emissions. She well documents all the ways that we waste energy and claims we are unlikely to change. She also points out that getting other countries, particularly China, to to reduce their carbon emissions is also futile. She concluded that if we want to get serious about reducing our carbon emissions then we need to find cheap renewable resources to replace our energy needs, to find a way to take greenhouse gases out of the air, or to keep the planet from warming because of those gasses that we have already put their .

Her last two suggestions show she does not have a good grasp of the scientific issues, but she is certainly right that we need cheap renewable resources. We have already found those in wind and solar, but they are not yet cheaper than fossil fuels because fossil fuels do not pay their external costs. The external costs for fossil fuels do not include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal –  if costs to the environment and to human health were included. If we include those  costs, then sustainable energy sources have a big cost advantage. If we wish to be serious, then we need to remove subsidies to fossil fuels, require fossil fuels to pay their external costs, and to  subsidize renewable energy sources at the same level for several decades.

This falls into a long list of defeatist articles, such as that by Robert Bryce, which says that we are not going to be able to do anything about global warming, so why try. Yes, driving greener cars alone won’t save the Earth, but conserving energy, developing renewable energy sources, changing the energy sources we subsidize, and having fossil fuels pay their external costs, will certainly help more than writing articles discouraging us from trying.

  (c) 2014  J.C. Moore

Wind Energy and Bird Mortality

Tue ,07/01/2014

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A rather curious letter recently appeared in the Tulsa World Editorial page titled Wind Turbines, by Jim Wiegand, Redding, CA.  Mr. Weigand has no ties to Tulsa, yet the editor published it and added a note: “Wiegand is a nationally recognized wildlife biologist and expert on the effects of wind turbines on birds.” The letter started with, “The wind industry is hiding massive turbine-related bird and bat genocide. The industry has created fraudulent mortality studies and been given voluntary guidelines in order to hide its slaughter.” The letter never mentioned birds again but went on into conspiracy theories and a criticism of wind energy.   

 Wind-turbines do sometimes kill birds and bats, but bird genocide? In other of his writings, Mr. Wiegand claims windmills are responsible for dozens of Whooping Crane deaths, and that wind turbines will cause their extinction within five years. So far, there is not one Whooping Crane death that can be attributed to windmills.  Carla Gilbert, in a post to the article, disputed the danger to similar birds. “When I was traveling in Portugal a number of years ago we could see many wind turbine farms from the highway. We were informed that the storks like to build their nests atop them. When the bus stopped for refueling I took pictures of the storks sitting on their nests atop the turbines and saw several storks coming and going from their nests. I did not see any injured or dead birds.” And, the storks are not becoming extinct as a result of the windmills. One falconer, who was at first worried about the windmills, now puts his falcon boxes on wind turbines and does not consider them a greater threat to birds than his picture window.

There has been considerable opposition to windmills and of renewable energy in general, so it is difficult to know whether all the criticisms are factual. Studies have found about an average of five to eight dead birds per windmill. That is about the number of birds who do themselves in on a picture window each year. When you add in the birds killed by cars and by hunting, it would seem that man’s other activities are a greater threat to the birds than wind turbines. For birds, the main threats are windows, cars, climate change, disease, hunters and pesticides.

There is a concern for protected species such as lesser prairie chickens and eagles. There are severe penalties for harming eagles, so to be on the safe side, the owners’ of windmills apply for permits to legally kill eagles. That has caused quite an outcry, but recently, the government gave the companies a 30 year moratorium on enforcing protection laws, while they study the problem. HPIM2053aIt does not seem likely that an eagle would fly into a windmill, particularly since another criticism is about the noise windmills make. Still there are confirmed reports that 85 bald eagles were killed by windmills in the past five years,  about 17 per year. Eagles are at the top of the food chain, so any environmental pollutant is likely to harm them, and DDT was the main cause of their population decline. Once DDT was banned and eagles became protected, their population recovered to about 140,000 in North America. They have been taken off the threatened species list. They are harmed by many pollutants associated with energy production – about 280 were killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It is a shame when one of the magnificent birds is killed by accident, but if we cut out any activities that might harm them, then we would have to cease much of our energy production. **

 

The concern about the lesser prairie chicken is that they avoid tall structures, and windmills might cause them to move from their normal habitat. Prairie chickens gather to mate each spring in large communal areas called leks. One enterprising oil company, opposed to wind power, drove a group of reporters up to a lek in the Osage Hills. They wanted to show the reporters what might be lost if windmills were built there, as if driving a van full of reporters around their lek is not going to disturb them. Many of the problems with wildlife and noise could be addressed by where the windmills are sited, and reasonable laws are needed to see that the windmills will disturb animals and people as little as possible.

Research finds the actual evidence of bird kills by windmills to be greatly exaggerated. In the Journal of Applied Ecology Volume 49, Issue 2, pages 386–394, April 2012, the authors found the impact of wind farms on bird populations to be minimal with the greater impact being during construction than during subsequent operation. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, and electricity transmission and distribution lines.  A related peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality says their data suggests that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. They concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

Mr. Wiegand’s letter is mostly fiction. A search shows that Mr. Weigand has a degree in biology from the 1970’s and makes his living by selling antiques.  He has done nothing that would qualify him as an expert in wildlife biology, and none of his claims, here or elsewhere, are backed by credible research. His avocation is writing letters to newspapers and posting comments on websites critical of wind energy. Some people can’t see the value, or the beauty of windmills, and they look for any excuse to criticize them.

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Smoky Hills Wind Turbines Greet the Sun.

**Note  added on  09/20/2015:  Here is an estimate of the number of birds killed by  each  major energy source from US News and World Reports..

 

usnews-avian-mortality-energy-source

 

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore