By Patrick Martin, Green Alliance Staff Writer
On Jan. 29, New Hampshire wind energy advocates, including Portsmouth wind energy firm Eolian Renewable Energy LLC, dodged a bullet. The N.H. House of Representatives struck down a bill that would have placed a moratorium on wind development in the state. This would have been a major blow to New Hampshire’s progression towards brighter future in renewable energy.
Having temporarily dispatched of this more looming issue, it may be time to correct a misconception that has detracted so much support from the alternative energy source. Groups opposed to wind farm development often cite the droves of unlucky dead birds littering the ground beneath turbines. However, grim statistics thrown at wind energy proponents may not be entirely forthcoming.
The problem stems from the data’s origin – the notorious Altamont Pass Wind Farm of the Diablo Range in Central California. The farm is said to be responsible for the deaths of 4,700 birds annually (including 1,300 majestic birds of prey). This staggering number is powerful on its own, but when examining the broader impact of wind energy across the nation, the picture differs significantly.
It is important to note two major differences between Altamont Pass and other wind farms in the country. The old turbines used in Altamont Pass at the time the bird death toll was recorded were much smaller and faster spinning than newer turbines. The larger conventional turbines spin much more slowly, which significantly decreases the likelihood of avian mortality.
The second difference setting Altamont apart from the rest is that it is an ideal habitat for a diverse cross-section of birds to thrive – particularly the federally protected Golden Eagle.
Though the American Wind Energy Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disagree on the number of annual bird-deaths caused by U.S. wind energy, they do agree on the need to continue to seek improvements.
Steps have been taken across the country to address the problem. Newer models of turbines are not only more efficient in delivering us from fossil fuels, but they also pose a lesser threat to birds. New locations selected for wind farm development undergo rigorous environmental impact assessments.
According to Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Green Alliance Business Partner, Eolian, “Prior to siting a wind facility in a particular location, years of study go into ensuring the most productive sites are developed with the least possible impact to wildlife, including birds.”
Kenworthy also said that despite a very low avian mortality for northeastern wind farms (including zero recorded eagle deaths at any commercial wind farm in the region), developers continue to cooperate closely with regulators. “Wind developers work very closely with state and federal agencies to develop avian and bat protection plans that minimize the impact to these animals during both construction and operation of wind facilities,” he said.
Companies such as the LRAD Corporation are in the business of creating products that deter birds from flying too closely to wind turbines. Using sound transmissions that mimic predator calls, the technology can prevent birds from coming within 1,000 meters of a farm — saving them from what could be an untimely demise.
Associated bird deaths per year (U.S.)
|Feral and domestic cats||Hundreds of millions [source: AWEA]|
|Power Lines||130 million– 174 million [source: AWEA]|
|Windows [residential and commercial]||100 million — 1 billion [source: TreeHugger]|
|Pesticides||70 million — [source: AWEA]|
|Automobiles||60 million — 80 million [source: AWEA]|
|Lighted communication towers||40 million — 50 million [source: AWEA]|
|Wind turbines||10,000 — 40,000 [source: ABC]|
As a result of the success and environmental benefits of N.E. wind farms to date, many environmental organizations, including Maine Audubon, Conservation Law Foundation, and Environment New Hampshire, have stated their clear support for “well-sited wind energy projects.”
With careful consideration in wind farm siting and planning, together with continued adaptive management techniques during operations, the horizon looks safer for our winged friends.
Instead of rejecting outright wind energy for its limited role in killing birds, bird enthusiasts should continue to work with the wind industry to drive additional improvements, recognizing climate change as the greatest risk to avian species and coal, oil and gas companies as a common enemy.