Windfarm Mortality: Environmental Disinformation, Ecodamage
“Put simply, wind farms are causing considerable damage to nature’s balance, for no benefit whatsoever to society. Indeed, no country in the world has reduced its carbon footprint thanks to them…. It is high time to call a moratorium on wind farms, and examine the situation after ditching our blinkers.”
Wind turbines kill birds and bats, we all know that, but the billion-dollar question is: how many? I say “billion” because subsidies to the wind industry run into billions of dollars per year in the United States alone, and chances are the public would not support such expenditures if they found out that these machines were driving iconic, useful or beautiful species into extinction. It is therefore important to find out the extent of the mortality caused by their rotor blades and high tension power lines.
In a paper presented in 2009 at the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Biologist Dr. Albert M. Manville wrote: “While the wind industry currently estimates that turbines kill 58 000 birds per year in the U.S. … the Service estimates annual mortality at 440 000 birds.” (1) This created quite a stir, and the wind industry tried hard to fight this estimate ever since.
Three years later, consultant biologist Dr. Shawn Smallwood came up with his own estimate in the March 2013 issue of the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin: “I estimated 888,000 bat and 573,000 bird fatalities/year (including 83,000 raptor fatalities) at 51,630 megawatt (MW) of installed wind-energy capacity in the United States in 2012.” (2) This prompted Birdwatching Magazine to post on their website: “Smallwood’s number of bird deaths represents a 30 percent jump over the 440,000 fatalities estimated by a 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report” (3). Their counterpart in the UK, Birdwatch, wrote a similar article under the headline: “Wind farm bird deaths more than thought”. (4)
The media, by and large, ignored this politically incorrect news. As for the above bird magazines, they overlooked the fact that the 2012 estimate is based on 51,630 MW of installed windpower capacity, whereas the previous estimate was based on 29,440 MW (1). On a per megawatt basis, the Smallwood estimate is in fact significantly lower than that of the USFWS: 11.1 birds/MW as against 14.9 birds/MW, respectively.
The end result is that the new, reduced estimate turns out to be of great help to the wind industry, which is trying to make believe that their machines have no overall effect on bird populations. Yet, years ago, Dr. Smallwood had found alarming estimates such as 116 golden eagles, 300 red-tailed hawks, 333 American kestrels, 380 burrowing owls, 2,526 rock doves, 2,557 western meadowlarks, etc. being killed yearly by the huge Altamont Pass windfarm (5).
This evolution towards compromise became apparent when the biologist wrote in a study that the repowering of the infamous Altamont Pass windfarm would greatly reduce the number of fatalities: “repowering the APWRA could reduce mean annual fatality rates by 54% for raptors and 65% for all birds, while more than doubling annual wind-energy generation” (6). His accommodating conclusions were helpful to the industry, and this deadliest of all windfarms has been granted permission to be repowered: it will be killing golden eagles, other raptors, etc. for another 25 years.
According to U.S. raptor specialist Jim Wiegand, mortality may in fact double at Altamont as a result, regardless of the lower number of turbines, because much more air space will be swept overall by the much longer blades. Fewer golden eagles (GE) may be killed, however, but only because their numbers have plummeted in California, largely due to mortality at wind farms. The GE population decline is the object of a cover-up, as is that of the Whooping Crane in the Great Plains. Nothing that may hurt the expansion plans of the wind industry is considered politically correct: it is thus being hushed, and surveys are being manipulated (7). Politicians have an interest in the prosperity of this industry, which is an important contributor to election campaigns funds (8), it is also a provider of golden parachutes – in Spain, just to name a couple, ex-Presidents Felipe González and José Maria Aznar now have “jobs” as advisors to companies with a sizeable wind energy portfolio: Gas Natural Fenosa and Endesa, respectively (9).
Despite all this, the truth has resurfaced in Europe, after 20-years of being brushed under the carpet. Last year, it was estimated by the Spanish bird society SEO/Birdlife that Spain’s 18,000 wind turbines are killing 6 to 18 million birds & bats a year. This range is congruent with earlier estimates from Germany and Sweden, mentioned by the California Energy Commission (10). Extrapolating the Birdlife estimates, for 39,000 wind turbines in operation in the US we would obtain 13 to 39 million birds and bats every year (11). Many of these deaths are of iconic raptors, beautiful cranes, and extremely useful bats, most of them protected species. By contrast, cats, cars and windows kill mostly common birds.
Birds and bats aren’t smarter in the U.S. than they are in Europe, thus we may reasonably infer that published, politically-correct mortality estimates in the US are shy of reality by more than one order of magnitude (ten times). To understand the causes of the massacre that is taking place, one needs to realize that bats are attracted to windfarms from sometimes as far as 14 km, as discovered by Professor Ingemar Ahlén in Sweden (12).
Raptors too are attracted, for other reasons:
- scavenging : raptors get close to the turbines looking for birds killed or maimed by the blades;
- abundance of prey: rodents abound under the turbines because they find a suitable food supply (graminae) in the open fields around wind turbines. Some also find it easy to dig burrows in the soil that has been softened by earth-moving equipment;
- wind conditions: this is where the wind blows strongest (hence the presence of turbines). Good wind attracts raptors, as it affords them effortless gliding and take-offs;
- because wind farms are surrounded by land that has been cleared of vegetation, and most raptors are looking for open spaces where they can see their prey and maneuver to grab it.
- perching: wind turbines offer perching sites with commanding views of vast hunting grounds all around, ideal for stalking prey (13);
- curiosity: when the construction phase is over, wildlife that had fled the area comes back, and investigate the new structures on their territory, as they would any new feature;
- a combination of these factors.
Finally, swallows, martins, swifts and some other insect eating birds of the Hirundinidae family seem to be attracted as well, probably for the same reason that bats are. This is based on evidence from another study by professor Ahlén, as brought to our attention by Clive Hambler, lecturer in Biological and Human Sciences, Hertford College, University of Oxford (14).
All of the above findings constitute a milestone on the road to understanding the effects of wind turbines on wildlife. They clearly tell us that it doesn’t really matter how carefully wind turbines are sited, since these attract birds and bats from miles around, and kill a great many – much more than is commonly admitted by governments and industry, and by yes-men consultants that are working for them. Wind turbines are thus acting as population sinks, and will cause unfathomable damage to the natural balance between winged predators and prey. The disappearance of bats and hirundines would among other things cause farmers to use more insecticides, and this in turn would affect our health, the price of food, and other insect-eating birds and raptors which prey on them. As for wind turbines killing raptors, they are helping rodents to become a plague, also affecting crops and food prices.
Put it simply, wind farms are causing considerable damage to nature’s balance, for no benefit whatsoever to society. Indeed, no country in the world has reduced its carbon footprint thanks to them. And here is a sobering thought: the price of electricity for households in highly-turbinized Denmark and Germany is over $0.34 (US) per kWh, and still going up as many more wind turbines are to be installed. In the U.S., the price is 12 cents per kWh.
It is high time to call a moratorium on wind farms, and examine the situation after ditching our blinkers.
(5) – http://www.altamontsrc.org/alt_doc/cec_final_report_08_11_04.pdf, Page 73, Table 3-11, last column “adjusted for search detection and scavenging”.