Violent Environmental Problems With Wind Turbine Operation: From Avian Mortality to Catastrophic Failure
Renewable energy wind turbines as electricity sources possess extreme environmental problems not found in their renewable energy rival–solar photovoltaic. These problems are due to rotation of 130-foot or more long, thirteen-ton turbine blades with tip speeds of 200 miles per hour.
“An unavoidable problem of wind turbines is killing flying creatures. The Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) produced a video “Eagle lawsuit ruffles wind industry feathers”. The video records a bird apparently being killed by a wind turbine. It appears the bird went back for a second look at the turbine and a blade struck the fatal blow. Possibly the bird thought the turbine was a bigger bird.”
A companion article published March 19, 2013, by CFACT is “Wind turbines kill up to 39 million birds a year” by wildlife expert Jim Wiegand. Details of studies on bird fatalities caused by wind turbines are cited in this article.
The source of Jim Wiegand’s statement wind turbines kills up to 39 million birds a year is found in the December 15, 2012, Townhall article by Paul Driessen “Stop Subsidizing the Slaughter”. Mr. Driessen’s estimates are based on bird fatality studies done in the United States and Europe that are referenced in the article. He used 39,000 wind turbines operating in the United States at the end of 2011 for making estimates.
It has been long known wind turbines are devastating to bat populations. A U. S. Geological Survey report “Bat Fatalities at Wind Turbines: Investigating the Causes and Consequences” mentions thousands of bats are killed annually at wind turbine sites around the world.
Besides being minced by turbine blade rotations, bats are subject to deaths by other means as explained by the August 26, 2008 Scientific American article “On a Wing and Low Air: The Surprising Way Wind Turbines Kill Bats.” Bats are killed by pressure pulses causing burst blood vessels in their lungs. Due to these deaths being caused by remote features of wind turbine operations and bats very small body mass, bat carcasses may be located large distances from offending wind turbines and never found. As nocturnal creatures, bats are particularly vulnerable to wind turbines because their operations are frequently at night when demand for electricity is at its lowest.
These four references provide links to other references of bird kill studies that make convincing arguments wind turbines present unacceptable threats to flying creatures.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the United States had at the end of 2012 more than 60,000 Megawatts of wind turbine output supplied by 45,000 turbines. The majority of wind turbines are located in vast agriculture areas of central United States stretching from Texas to Canada.
The 39 million annual bird fatalities estimates by Jim Wiegand and Paul Driessen may be gross underestimates due to thousands of wind turbines starting operation in 2012. Bats devour huge amounts of insects and their loss in agriculture areas may have devastating impacts on future agriculture production. These assessments are not considered or studied. Agriculture Departments of Midwest Universities, like Purdue University, should study effects of bat loss, and maybe extinction, and subsequent larger insect populations on crop production. Wind farms in corn fields are close by.
Other problems with wind turbines are they catch on fire and explode. In 2011, an upper New York state wind turbine exploded and spread debris for one-fourth mile. Pictures of wind turbine fires in Texas and other locations are further displayed.
Winter times present other problems for wind turbines. Spinning turbine blades have thrown refrigerator-sized pieces of ice hundreds of yards.
Wind turbines should be subjected to the same Maximum Credible Accident (MCA) criteria imposed on nuclear power plants. The MCA for nuclear plants is a Loss-of-Coolant-Accident (LOCA) in which reactor coolants stop flowing and reactor cores are subject to melting due overheating.
The MCA for wind turbines is 13-ton turbine blades snap-off during operation and blades hurtled possibly one-half mile. This accident could be labeled Loss-of-Blade-Accident (LOBA). A possible LOBA is a severed blade lands in a local high school football stadium during Homecoming–thousands could be killed before the 13-ton blade comes to rest. Exclusion zones surrounding wind turbines need established to protect the public from injury. Smaller scale injuries are individuals being struck by decapitated eagles or similar flying creatures.
Wind turbines also affect humans. Exposure to low-amplitude pressure pulses unnoticed by humans may lead to future problems. In addition, sound pulses at about 20 cycles per minute match turbine’s speed of rotation. Long-term health effects from these disturbances can’t be known.
These are a few violent environmental problems with wind turbines unknown to solar photovoltaic. Like solar energy, additional environmental assessments are wind turbines energy requirements to build and install them in comparison to energy outputs during operating lifetimes. Wind turbines require external power supplies to heat them in the winter and provide initial blade rotations.
Environmental effects of acquiring rare earth metals for generator magnets, large quantities of fiberglass and other metals, and vast amounts of concrete for turbine bases need evaluated. Like solar energy, intermittent operation of wind turbines require fast responding fossil-fuel electricity sources to maintain continuity of electricity supply. Poor performance of backup electricity supply may reduce or even eliminate wind turbine’s savings of fossil fuel use.
In the exuberant pursuit of wind and solar energy sources, matters of intermittent supply are ignored. Wind power is substantial in Texas and supply problems are documented in my February 11, 2011, article, “Wind Power Emergencies in Texas“ posted on The Heartland Institute website.
Like solar photovoltaic, wind turbines are expected to have a practical operating lifetime of around 25 years. What happens to wind turbines no longer usable?
Will the countryside be strewn by unsightly landscapes of tall towers with dangling turbine blades? This is a view of thousands of still wind turbines shown years ago on I-10 west of Palm Springs, California. Whether this situation exists today the author is unaware.
James H. Rust, Professor of nuclear engineering and policy adviser to The Heartland Institute. Prof. Rust currently funds three annual engineering scholarships of $2500, $6000, and $6500.