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Avian Mortality: Union of Concerned Scientists’ Negin Debunked in Real Time

 “I have no idea who Jim Wiegand is, but the Master Resource website is highly questionable….”

“Jim: My apologies. I was overreacting…. Perhaps you would be better served if you avoided that [MasterResource] crowd.”

So said Elliott Negin, Director of News & Commentary at the Union of Concerned Scientists, several days ago in the comments section of his Huffington Post  piece, Wind Energy Threat to Birds Is Overblown.”

Mr. Negin is a serial user of the argumentum ad hominem. The Free Dictionary defines ad hominem as: “Appealing to personal considerations rather than to logic or reason: Debaters should avoid ad hominem arguments that question their opponents’ motives.”

In his piece, Negin takes on journalist and scholar Robert Bryce, whose exposés of politically correct renewable energy have clearly stuck a nerve with mainstream environmentalists whose embrace of industrial windpower is problematic.

Negin’s statements such as “Bryce … likely will continue to attack renewable energy at every opportunity on behalf of his benefactors” are a low blow indeed. Perhaps Negin would like to square off with Bryce in a public debate with media present to see who the real environmentalist is and who has the better facts and arguments.

My money is on Bryce, and not because he is necessarily an effective debater. He is. It is just that wind power is ecologically suspect beyond a best-of-evils forgiveness.

Bad Timing!

But just hours after Negin’s post went live, Kate Sheppard of the Huffington Post reported some big news: Duke Energy Renewables Guilty Plea Nets Big Fine for Bird-Killing Wind Turbines. “The company admitted killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows, at two sites in Converse County, Wyo., from 2009 to 2013,” Sheppard wrote.

“Wind energy is not green if it is killing hundreds of thousands of birds,” the American Bird Conservancy replied to the verdict (as reported by Sheppard). “The unfortunate reality is that the flagrant violations of the law seen in this case are widespread.”

Negin quickly added an update to his post with the development.

Here Come the Comments

A number of readers were not sympathetic to Negin, one noting how rated-design capacity of windpower was hardly indicative of what it can produce given its  low capacity factors. This simple, well-known fact is routinely ignored by the American Wind Energy Association—and non-critical (crony) environmentalists.

Enter Jim Wiegand, of MasterResource import, who pushed back on Negin’s attacks on Robert Bryce with his comment:

Robert Bryce is not a wildlife biologist. But I am, and his article grossly understated the industry’s  hidden bird and bat genocide.

The wind industry is set up to hide their horrific mortality problem. Some East Coast studies I have looked have concealed tens of thousand of fatalities. I recently looked over a 7 month study that I believe concealed over 25,000 bat fatalities and over 5000 bird fatalities. This was the estimated mortality from just 28- 2.5 MW turbines after making adjustments for their tiny search areas and other factors.

The study reported finding 262 bird carcasses and 706 bat carcasses. Searches for carcasses amounted to about 56% of a 50 distance from towers. These turbines had blades 50 meters in length and searches should have been 200 meters. These turbines are also located in the known habitat of the endangered Indiana bat.

How many of the unreported 25,000 bats were of this species? We will never know. From several different sources. I now have carcass distance data from hundreds of wind turbine fatalities that shows at least 90% of carcasses are launched and land beyond blade lengths. A turbine with 50 meter blades (2MW-2.5MW class turbines) should have search areas of 200 meters from towers for all these carcasses.

The “study” reported a mortality rate of just 6.4 birds/MW and 15.61 bats/MW. The public should be outraged by this because the industry is concealing millions of bird and bat fatalities each year with their bogus research.

Negin replies:

The studies I cite in my blog are not industry studies. They were conducted by scientists and most of them were published in peer-reviewed journals. In any case, all energy technologies have drawbacks.

Nuclear and coal plants kill millions of fish annually, for example. And birds crash into their cooling towers, although I have not been able to find any studies estimating the numbers. Then there’s the threat of climate change to migratory birds. No energy technology is completely benign.

Wiegand comments:

The wind industry has been hiding behind fraudulent studies and mortality monitoring for several decades. “Voluntary regulations” have created an environment with mortality impacts not being reported, or not being properly studied. When mortality is studied the wind industry methodology is rigged with search areas 10-25 times too small, improper search intervals, and many other tricks. None of this is scientific.

Also hidden has been the fact that these turbines are such prolific killers that in years to come these turbines will be the reason for the extinction of many species.

The blade strike slaughter applies to everything that flies that must share the same habitat with these turbines. This includes bees and other insects as well. For birds and bats the mortality footprint of every single turbine reaches out thousands of miles because of the migration patterns for these species.

My research into the wind industry indicates that the wind industry hides over 90% of their mortality with “their” studies.

Negin then went ad hominem in spades:

I have no idea who Jim Wiegand is, but the Master Resource website is highly questionable. The top “principal” listed on the site is Robert Bradley Jr., the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research (IRE), a fossil fuel-industry front.

Over the last decade or so, IER and its political arm, the American Energy Alliance, have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from ExxonMobil; the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s trade association; the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a secretive nonprofit group linked to Charles Koch and his brother David, the billionaire owners of the coal, oil and gas behemoth Koch Industries; and the Charles Koch-controlled Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, one of a handful of Koch family funds. (For more info, see here.)

Another principal on the list is Marlo Lewis from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which until recently was one of the most-cited climate change denier organizations. Over the years CEI also has received significant funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers’ foundations. For more on CEI, see here).

I wouldn’t trust anything Mr. Wiegand has to say.

Wiegand responded:

Mr Elliott [Negin] stated below “I wouldn’t trust anything Mr. Wiegand has to say”.

What Mr. Elliott failed to point out is that I have posted articles and scientific facts about wind turbine mortality all over the world. Why did he not attack everyone? The Master Resource site is just one of many.

I encourage readers to search the internet for all this information and remember no one pays me. I work for Nobody. I am only trying educate the public so protected species can be saved from this terrible industry.

If another industry in some way benefits from my research I can not help that. Maybe it is as simple as other industries and people caring about eagles. All I really care about is that the wind industry stops slaughtering off our precious wildlife, especially eagles. I have studied eagles for decades.

As for the news below about Duke Energy being prosecuted, I believe dozens of wind projects could be prosecuted for rigging mortality studies and hiding the deaths to rare and endangered species.

Negin then backtracked:

Jim: My apologies. I was overreacting to the fact that you published your story on a site run by Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded climate science contrarians, which I immediately found suspect. Perhaps you would be better served if you avoided that crowd.

In any case, I appreciate your passion for protecting birds. But what I have to go on is the peer-reviewed literature — which you apparently dismiss. It shows that the number of birds killed by other manmade sources dwarfs the number attributed to the wind industry. That is not to excuse the wind industry, mind you. But I wanted to put this problem in context, which was sorely missing from Robert Bryce’s columns.

Have you published peer-reviewed studies yourself that contradict the conclusions of the some of the studies I cite? If so, please post the links.

As for Duke prosecution, as I mention in my blog, Fish and Wildlife was investigating 18 turbine-related bird death cases and referred seven of them to the Justice Department. I assume the Duke case was one of those six. When I get a moment I will post an addendum to my blog mentioning the Duke settlement.

To which I can now respond to Negin:

  • I was attacking the economically unjustifiable, ecologically damaging wind power industry back at Enron (see here);
  • There is a strong moral case for the most abundant, affordable, and reliable energies;
  • Dense, reliable energies are better for the environmental than dilute, intermittent energies (wind and solar);
  • Marlo Lewis, the present writer, and others that I know on the free-market side of the energy sustainability debate are not bought-and-paid-for, as Negin asserts.

Getting back to ad hominem argumentation, I stated elsewhere:

the basic thing about free marketeers is that we have arrived at what we feel is the intellectually correct, moral, utilitarian position–and then we seek funding. We do not just sit back and decide to go with the highest bidder.

Richard Belzer added:

there is a serious simultaneity bias. One cannot easily tell if funding influenced the research or research influenced the funding. One’s first priority should be addressing the merits. If and only if an argument fails on the merits should one delve into whether funding might explain why.

The reason is that all funders have agendas, including (and often especially) the government. There are many competitive government-funded research programs for which compatibility with the agency’s agenda is a transparent criterion for funding eligibility.

For some reason, those who object to “industry” funding seem not to object to this. I find this especially ironic given that the prevailing view among free-market types is that “industry” is intensely non-ideological because profit is neither Blue nor Red. Because profit is as easily located in productive activity as in rent-seeking, it is a rare policy issue in which “industry” cannot be found on both (all?) sides.

Mr. Negin, the ball is in your court. I leave you with this quotation that gets to the heart of the matter:

Truth is what gets results…. Continual questioning and brainstorming … is what we call a challenge process.

The quality of this process depends on a willingness to respectfully engage in open, honest, and objective debate, to challenge the status quo, and to consider humbly any challenges to our own beliefs, proposals, and actions. This applies just as much to challengers as to those being challenged….

“As the philosopher, economist, and Anglican bishop Richard Whately observed: ‘It is one thing to wish to have truth on our side, and another thing to wish sincerely to be on the side of truth.’”

This quotation comes from page 115 of Charles Koch’s The Science of Success (Wiley & Sons, 2007: reviewed here). If you dare read this book from your declared dreaded enemy, Mr. Negin, you might just start a long, agonizing process of self-questioning that just might make you less of a climate alarmist, statist, and “PR hack”—and more of a scholar and free-market, pro-consumer, pro-taxpayer advocate.

10 comments

1 papertiger { 11.25.13 at 7:53 am }

I wish I had Jim Wiegand on speed dial. We could use ten more just like him.

If I had I would’ve picked his brain on this.
California Condor Found Dead in Bear Valley – article from the Bakersfield Californian.

The particulars – a decomposing corpse of a condor was discovered in a cistern used to reload firefighting helicopters by a group of volunteers who were emptying the water in preparation for a Great Shake Out earthquake drill on October 17th. The cause of death is still yet to be determined, but regardless of what is admitted eventually the death of a condor is a criminal matter.
Background – Bear Valley is Tehacapi. The wind farms are just over the ridge, any ridge you want to pick.

The report was kind of specific as to the location: just off of Jacaranda drive in Bear Valley.
I figured it must be sort of easy to find from the air, because in an emergency you would want the helicopter crew to be able to find it, so I went to google map to find the cistern.
I wanted to know if there was a hatch that was left open, or if it was located away from direct line of sight of residents in the valley so that a bird could be disposed of covertly.

No joy with the google street view.

I mentioned that it was a group of volunteers that discovered the body specifically because the paper said it was an emergency team participating in the annual Great Shake Out earthquake drill, implying that government officials reported the incident.

But there’s a problem with that. On October 17th the government was shut down. My gut tells me this happened fast with too many witnesses, and if the powers that be had their druthers this story would have never seen the light of day.
My reasoning is due to the follow up story from the L.A.Times on November 9th.
Two Condors deaths in Kern water tanks are major blow to species.
In the article we discover that these are open air water tanks, 15 feet in diameter, at least 3 feet deep, in permanent locations.
The first condor was found October 2nd. by condor specialists who went looking after the bird’s transmitter signal changed. Should have been a big story, but there was no report.
I reckon there would have never been a report if not for the second bird.
AS it is the LA Times devoted most of their story to teh shaky proposition that it was lead bullets causing condors to be unnaturally thirsty – in other words they took the oportunity to push their BS political agenda rather than question the actual circumstance.

I still want to see the actual tanks where the birds were found, and I want to know who is liable, but I suspect that these birds were killed at a local windfarm and transported to the cisterns to escape liability.

Even if my suspicions are just insane political bias, I still want to see these water tanks relocated so that people can monitor them passively against a repeat occurance.

2 papertiger { 11.25.13 at 7:55 am }

Sorry about missing the close tag on the LA Times story.

3 Jim Wiegand { 11.25.13 at 12:34 pm }

How do I feel about the California condor story? The public should demand images of the corpses and the people that saw and recovered the corpses should be interviewed. If no images are produced it is very reasonable to assume that the fix is in because wind turbine wounds are easy to spot.
I believe condors were killed by wind turbines in the early 1980′s shortly after thousand of turbines were installed in their habitat and this is what led to the emergency capture of the remaining population. If anyone wants to read more on this they should read this article:

http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/9011.

As Elloitt Negin pointed out in his article…… “When an eagle is killed and people find a carcass, FWS asks them to send it to the National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver. About 2,500 show up every year, according to FWS, although certainly more go unreported”. I believe that many of the 2500 eagles showing at the Wildlife depository were actually killed by wind turbines. I believe that if one were to do a audit of the eagle carcasses sent to the National Eagle Repository, the number has probably exploded over the last 20 years because of wind turbine mortality.
I also believe that many eagles reported being killed by electrocution and collisions transmission lines, were actually killed by wind turbines.

As many that read my posts are aware I am not a fan of cover-ups when it comes to wildlife. I happen to know for a fact that the Feds do rig wildlife investigations and people have to realize it does happen. I have seen it first hand. The links below tell of a classic example of a federal wildlife cover-up. My wife and I also happened to be the primary eyewitness. This cover-up is small when compared to the condors, the declining whooping crane population, or the reported wind turbine mortality taking place at wind farms across North America but it illustrates the disturbing character of a Federal Agency.

This took place in the spring and summer of 2012.Most disturbing in all this was that very crucial evidence that I found relating to this case quickly disappeared. I only told 2 other people about it. One was a state F&G warden and the other was a federal employee. The physical evidence that disappeared was a loose end that needed to be fixed so a lid could be kept on the investigation.

http://www.examiner.com/article/bridge-bay-resort-allegedly-trashing-swallow-nests-violating-migratory-bird-act
http://www.redding.com/news/2012/jul/02/feds-resort-on-lake-shasta-not-responsible-for/
http://www.redding.com/news/2012/jul/08/jim-wiegand-waves-wind-did-not-destroy-swallows/

4 Sherri Lange { 11.25.13 at 12:38 pm }

Thanks and very interesting. There seem to be a lot of folks drinking from the “skeptic’s water” hole, these days. I am with you, Paper Tiger. Here is another skeptic on the crime and “punishment: Katy:

Quote: “As the resident skeptic, I want to tell you my first and second impressions of the article and the news about this decision. While it’s fantastic that the ruling and the cause of it are receiving national/international attention, did you notice that aside from grossly under reporting the real number of bird kills likely caused by the wind turbines, they imply the while the wind farms’ presence caused the bird deaths, it’s really the birds’ fault and that furthermore, wildlife biologists will now be watching for eagles and will be tasked with reporting future deaths – yeah right!! From the article:

Flying eagles behave like drivers texting on their cellphones; they don’t look up. Hardly an apples to apples comparison; those darn birds are just plain careless! This simplistic reasoning implies that there have always been super tall objects in the air that the careless and clumsy eagles tend to run into! As they scan for food, they don’t notice the industrial turbine blades until it’s too late.

The wind farms in Friday’s settlement came on line before the Obama administration drafted voluntary guidelines encouraging wind energy companies to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid locations that would impact wildlife. Companies that choose to cooperate get rewarded, because prosecutors take it into consideration before pursuing prosecution. So isn’t this proof that the things are pretty much permanent and a blight on the land? Voluntary guidelines? Really? Why not mandatory guidelines?

Once a wind farm is built, there is little a company can do to stop the deaths. Some firms have tried using radar to detect birds and to shut down the turbines when they get too close. Others have used human spotters to warn when birds are flying too close to the blades. Another tactic has been to remove vegetation to reduce the prey the birds like to eat. Good plan – alter the landscape. Of course that won’t affect either the local ecology or rain runoff, no way…

As part of the agreement, Duke will continue to use field biologists to identify eagles and shut down turbines when they get too close. They’re going to stand there and watch 24/7 then run and hit the off switch when an eagle is spotted haphazardly texting-while-flying around the area? It will install new radar technology, similar to what is used in Afghanistan to track missiles. And it will continue to voluntarily report all eagle and bird deaths to the government. OMG, seriously? Now go back and re-read the previous paragraph about how none of what is in the agreement has proved effective in the past! And there’s that word “voluntarily” again – that’s like driving too fast then seeing a policeman a ways down the road and stopping to let him know you were speeding a mile or so back and may have even run a red light!!

Sorry, I’m just not clicking my heels about this one. The fine doesn’t do more to Duke than perhaps a minor pinch. The wildlife remains the big loser in this and therefore everyone ultimately comes out in the negative column.”

~K

5 Marlo Lewis { 11.25.13 at 1:39 pm }

It’s so very, very hard to understand why many people distrust climate scientists these days. Concerned scientists never argue ad hominem; they never use defamatory rhetoric (like “denier organization”).

Perhaps Mr. Negin can provide some expert advice. My cockatiel and sun conure have been flying around inside my house for 20 years, without a mishap. These beautiful and intelligent creatures have no problem comprehending stationary structures like walls and even windows. They perceive immediately whether the door to the next room is open or closed.

However — and maybe it’s just because I haven’t read the peer-reviewed literature — I somehow doubt my critters would fare as well with ceiling fans. Would Mr. Negin advise me and other parrot fanciers to leave on the ceiling fans in rooms where our feathered friends might be flying about?

Call me a skeptic, but I can’t help observing that all portable room fans have protective screens to prevent careless fingers from making accidental contact with moving blades.

Surely, people generally are more aware than birds of the safety risks posed by spinning fan blades. Yet protective coverings are a standard feature of any portable fan on the market. Indeed, it’s probably illegal to sell fans lacking such screens.

There seems to be a policy implication here, but if concerned scientists disagree, then I guess we’ll just have to take their word for it. Wouldn’t want to be called a “denier,” after all.

6 rbradley { 11.25.13 at 2:15 pm }

I think if Elliott Negin spend time with Marlo Lewis (and me) he would drop the denier stuff. I’m coming to DC next week EN–want to meet?

7 papertiger { 11.25.13 at 3:45 pm }

Thanks Jim, for answering so quickly.

Just one more question for you.

Have there ever been reports of condors, eagles, other raptors, drowning in swimming pools?

What the L.A. Times describe is a Doughboy. Maybe beefed up to make it helicopter proof, but basicly a glorified above ground swimming pool.

I’d expect, if their story holds water, that there would be instances and more of them, of condors drowning (or being rescued from) backyard pools.
Just because there are a lot more of them.

Does that make sense?

8 Ed Reid { 11.25.13 at 3:53 pm }

Romm’s Law: He who uses “denier” first loses the argument. (Google “Godwin’s Law for context.)

9 Mike Leonard { 11.26.13 at 11:36 am }

The Greenfield Recorder (MA) printed my editorial today on the folly of Big Wind & Big Solar: http://www.recorder.com/opinion/columns/9511384-95/leonardmy-turn-power-down-on-wind-solar

10 papertiger { 11.26.13 at 11:07 pm }

Here’s a 1998 story from the LA Times.

2 Young Condors Drown in Wilderness Water Hole
VENTURA — Two young California condors have been found drowned in a natural water hole in the rugged back country of Los Padres National Forest, wildlife officials said Wednesday.

Field biologist Adam Brown became concerned that there could be trouble last week, when he detected a steady signal from a radio transmitter that indicated that one of the birds had not moved for a couple of days.

After a strenuous 1 1/2-hour climb Friday, Brown discovered the two juvenile birds–one 16 months old, the other 26 months–lying in a pool of water that had collected in a pothole atop a sandstone rock formation in a remote canyon in Santa Barbara County.

Well. How about that.

Still the fire deptment needs to move these tanks.

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