Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are We Sacrificing Our Birds for Wind Energy?

Wind Turbines, What Is The Risk?
There is no question that wind turbines pose a risk to birds. The degree of risk is at its worst when wind farms are located in a bird habitat with concentrated numbers of birds or when they are located directly in the migratory path of a great number of birds. Some risks can be mitigated by responsible location and operation of wind farms.

The most famous case of damage by wind farms was at Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California. It was built in the 1980’s and was one of the first wind energy farms in the United States. The California Audubon Society says that 4,700 birds die each year as a result of the wind farm. Among these birds are Golden Eagles, Burrowing Owls Red-tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels.

One Case in Texas
In Texas, PPM and Babcock and Brown are planning a 60,000-acre wind farm with 500+ turbines in Kenedy Ranch along the Texas Gulf Coast. The Texas Audubon Society has taken an official stand to oppose this wind farm, “Audubon Texas opposes the wind projects proposed in Kenedy County and other sites along the Texas Coast due to potential bird collision mortalities that may have negative impacts on entire species populations.”

On September 16, 2008, I spoke with Mr. Walt Kittleberger, Executive Director of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation, a founding member of the Coastal Habitat Alliance. We discussed the litigation that CHA brought against the Texas Land Commissioner, the Public Utility Commission, and PPM and Babcock and Brown.

CHA is concerned that the area in question is home to many birds that are named in state and federal lists of threatened and endangered species. Further, the proposed wind farm “is located within one of the most active and important bird migratory pathways in the United States.” CHA also believes that the State of Texas is not honoring its agreement under the Coastal Zone Management Act (federal). Under that act, Texas agrees to have in place a regulatory program that governs all electric-producing facilities in the Texas coastal area.

Dr. Glenn Perrigo from Texas A&M was hired by the partners in the wind farm to study its impact on bird populations in the area. In a sworn affidavit, he reported that after three years of study, he felt that the sites that were selected for the wind farms were appropriate. He swore that the site proposed no greater risk than any other wind farm in the country. That, however, may not be a small risk based on reported fatalities at other sites across the country. Also, per his affidavit, Dr. Perrigo reported that there were 72 kills per turbine each year. If the site is limited to 500 turbines, that comes to 36,000 kills per year! Those are statistics for daytime kills only, so they don't represent the total loss of birds.

Mr. Kittleberger informed me that a federal judge, Lee Yeakel, has dismissed the suit and has not yet given a formal opinion giving his reasons for doing so.

You can read more about this Texas dispute and learn more about supporting the CHA in this cause by going to their website. The Link is listed below.

Is The Wind Industry Concerned?
I also spoke with Ms. Kathy Taylor who works for Resolve in Washington, D.C. Resolve is a non-profit organization that facilitates opportunities for National Wind Coordinating Collaborative and other parties with interests that are impacted by the wind industry to work together from both sides of this issue. She explained that members of the wind industry, in general, have the desire to operate in the most responsible way in order to avoid public reproach and that there is an ongoing concentrated effort to discover and mitigate the damaging effects of wind farms.

Ms. Taylor told me that most states have guidelines that require two-year pre-construction studies for proposed sites and that post-construction studies are required as well. I am under the impression that Texas has no current laws in place that require permits for wind farms. I was unable to verify what, if any, legislation is in place that otherwise governs the operation of wind turbines, especially as they relate to risks to wildlife.

It Looks Like They Are Here To Stay
The bottom line is that electricity generating wind farms are popping up everywhere. Texas is the leader of this industry in the United States. It looks like, for better or for worse, they are here to stay.

Anywhere man builds his structures, he endangers wildlife. There are deaths due to collisions with buildings, automobiles, airplanes, communication towers, etc. There are electrocutions when birds attempt to land on power lines. Agricultural pesticides and other poisons kill millions of birds per year. We encroach on their nesting areas and disrupt their food sources. Those in favor of wind energy site all of the above risks as being more of a threat to birds than responsibly sited and operated wind farms.

According to Wikipedia, T. Boone Pickens believes that we can use wind power instead of natural gas to produce electricity. The natural gas that is saved could then be used in the transportation industry. However, Wikipedia also sites problems with “leaking lubricating oil or hydraulic fluid running down turbine blades.” In some cases, these can wind up in water supplies. Wikipedia also discusses the possibilities of some contribution to global warming by the operation of these turbines.

The volume of information on both sides of this issue is overwhelming. My hope is that our lawmakers will see fit to institute regulations and guidelines that will guarantee that everything that can be done to protect our wildlife will be done when the wind industry builds and operates its farms.

Coastal Habitat Alliance
National Wind Coordinating Collaborative
National Audubon Society
Texas State Energy Conservation Office
Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine
T. Boone Pickens, Wikipedia
Environmental Effects of Wind Power, Wikipedia

No Author Listed, Avian Mortality at Altamont Pass.Golden Gate Audubon Society
No Author Listed, At a Glance: Kennedy Industrial Wind Projects. Coastal Habitat Alliance
9-16-08 Telephone conversation with Walt Kittleberger, Coastal Habitat Alliance, (956)944-2387
9-17-08 Telephone conversation with Kathy Taylor, Resolve, (202)965-6392

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