A Free-Market Energy Blog

Yesterday’s Eco-complaints; Today’s ‘Planet of the Humans’

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- December 15, 2020

“The people who build wind farms are not environmentalists. . . .  Business is a delicate balancing act, and chief executives are always walking a tightrope between the needs of the community, their employees, and the marketplace.” [Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age (1995), p. 454.]

Planet of the Humans‘ expose is long overdue.” [below]

Big Green, Inc. has been challenged by Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs’s “Planet of the Humans.” Importantly, the multi-million-view documentary brought together the inconvenient truths of (politically correct) renewable energies, as well as batteries for electric vehicles.

In a recent post for the Institute for Energy Research (IER), “Long-standing Eco-warnings Against Renewables Reinforce ‘Planet of the Humans’,” I documented how many mainstream eco-authors forthrightly talked about these problems. I noted:

Moore/Gibbs memorialized what had long been recognized by the environmental intelligentsia. A review of the eco-literature reveals ample recognition and warning about the downsides of industrial wind turbines and solar arrays as grid electricity. But it was as if mentioning the problem was enough to just move on. After all, there has to be some supply-side replacement for fossil fuels (not to mention nuclear) given the political barrier to deindustrialization and negative growth.

This current post adds to this documentation with selected quotations below.


“Environmental organizations generally support the development of ‘renewable’ energy resources . . . but reserve judgment on specific projects until site-specific impacts are known. Depending on local conditions, environmental criticism of renewable plants can be every bit as scathing as for fossil plants, much to the dismay of policy advocates.”

– Rich Ferguson, Electric Industry Restructuring and Environmental Stewardship.” The Electricity Journal, July 1999, 27–28.

“[This] is not to say [non-oil] energy regimes would have been environmentally neutral. One based on muscle and biomass (the Haitian model) would have stripped the world of combustible vegetation.  One based on coal (the Polish model) would have markedly increased air pollution.  One based on nuclear energy (anyway not available before 1954) would have run greater risks of meltdowns and committed the world to millennia of management of more lethal wastes.  As for one based on photovoltaics, wind power, and fuel cells—we don’t know (yet) what that might entail.”

– J. R. McNeil, Something New Under the Sun (New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), p. 306.

Paul Gipe in Wind Energy Comes of Age revealed many of wind power’s problems, particularly concerning “avian mortality.”

“The ‘bird problem,’ as the wind industry calls it, came to light over a three-year period in the late 1980s when the California Energy Commission tallied reports that as many as 160 birds had been killed or had died in the vicinity of the state’s wind power plants, including a protected and highly valued species:  the golden eagle.  After surveying the Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and wind plant operators, the CEC learned that 99 dead birds had been recovered in the Altamont, 9 in Tehachapi, and 40 in the San Gorgonio Pass from 1984 to 1988.  These birds had been killed either by the wind turbines or by the transmission lines serving the wind plants, or else they had died from some unknown cause.”

– Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age (New York:  John Wiley & Sons, 1995), p. 343.

“This is the question that Rich Ferguson wants answered.  How many dead birds, specifically eagles, are too many? Ferguson, energy chair for the national Sierra Club, is the environmental community’s point man on the bird-wind energy issue. He is trying to mediate an internal debate within the club’s powerful California contingent, which is fueled by charges from a local activist that a 50-MW wind project in Solano County proposed by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District will kill golden eagles and should therefore be stopped.

Ferguson, who calls the situation in the Altamont Pass ‘tragic and unacceptable,’ nevertheless believes that the issue is less than black and white.  Ferguson wants to avert a split within the nation’s largest environment group like that of the deep division over nuclear power that [split] the Sierra Club during the 1960s, when an antinuclear faction gained supremacy over a group led by famed photographer Ansel Adams.

Ferguson, a former physics professor, hopes to head off just such an all-or-nothing battle over wind energy, which would certainly damage the wind industry but could potentially damage the Sierra Club’s authority as a proponent of renewable energy as well.”

– Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age, p. 353.

“The CEC and the counties of Solano, Alameda, and Contra Costa, sponsored the most extensive study of bird deaths near wind farms ever undertaken [beginning] in early 1989. . . .  The study found 182 dead birds, two-thirds of them raptors.  Red-tailed hawks headed the list, followed by American kestrels and golden eagles.  BioSystems, the consortium’s contractor, estimated that wind turbines and related facilities in the Altamont pass were killing 160 to 400 birds per year, most of which were birds of prey, including up to 40 golden eagles per year. . . .  Two-thirds of the golden eagles were killed after colliding with wind turbines or their towers.  The powerful visual imagery of graceful hawks soaring into the ‘Cuisinarts of the air,’ as one former Sierra Club lobbyist termed wind turbines, lends itself to blaring headlines and self-styled investigative reports revealing the ‘true story’ behind one green technology.”

– Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age, pp. 344-45.

“The [wind] industry must control erosion or it will certainly suffer further at the pen of activists such as Audubon’s Steve Ginsberg, to whom erosion ‘is just one of many egregious examples of how wind energy is ripping up the Tehachapis, and its [the industry’s] lack of true environmental concern.”

– Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age, p. 414.

“At the height of the Gorman hearing, an old man took the podium.  Suddenly the television news crews switched on their Klieg lights.  Something was afoot.  They had been alerted that a suitably newsworthy ‘sound bite’ was on its way. Tension in the room mounted. The old man proceeded to lovingly describe the beauty of his racing pigeons, their speed and grace, how they had become a part of his family, and then with perfect timing and dramatic flair, pleaded with the planning commission to protect his pigeons from ‘the Cuisinarts of the air.’ 

The arrow went straight home, sending up a roar from the audience.  A new image had been created and the cameras flashed it across the country.  Although often credited to staging by Cerrell and Associates, the term was conceived by the Sierra Club. The club’s Los Angeles area representative, Bob Hattoy, later bragged to a Washington lobbyist that he coined the infamous expression. 

Hattoy knew how to turn a phrase.  He brought the 1992 Democratic national convention and a television audience of millions to tears with his story of contracting AIDs. Wind energy had made one powerful energy.”

– Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age, p. 450.

“The people who build wind farms are not environmentalists. . . .  Business is a delicate balancing act, and chief executives are always walking a tightrope between the needs of the community, their employees, and the marketplace.”

– Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age, p. 454.

“There is a real problem with bird deaths at Tarifa [Spain].  It cannot be kept quiet and it will not go away of its own accord [since] . . . Tarifa is on a major bird migration route.”

– Lyn Harrison, “Never Again,” Windpower Monthly, February 1994, p. 4.

“By and large environmentalists around the world support wind power and in Spain, despite dead birds, they are still supporting it.  Their trust in the wind industry is vital.  Breaking it would be tantamount to signing wind energy’s death warrant.”

– Lyn Harrison, “Never Again,” Windpower Monthly, op cit.

“There are parallels between the problems of raptors in the Altamont Pass—which the Californian wind industry has been working to solve for a number of years—and the Tarifa controversy.  People could argue that the industry, with its experience of bird kills in America, should have known better.  But there is a difference.  In Altamont Pass the raptors are mainly residents, while at Tarifa those most at risk just pass through the area.”

– Lyn Harrison, “Never Again,” op. cit.

“The wind community could again point out that over five million birds are killed in America each year after collisions with bridges, buildings, communications towers, and the like.  But this is missing the point.  Unlike most other industrial development, wind power takes place in the open countryside which has far more chance of being an important bird habitat.”

– Lyn Harrison, “Never Again,” Windpower Monthly, ibid.

“Citing a dearth of applicable wind-generation modifications, Dick Anderson of the California Energy Commission suspects that current bird fatality levels in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (WRA) will mirror those revealed by a 1991 CEC study.  ‘Very little has been done by the wind companies to effectively change the situation,’ Anderson recently said.  Though studies have yielded a ‘better understanding’ of avian causalities, few measures appear to be reducing avian impacts.”

– Staff Article, “Altamont Avian Mortality Continues; Improvements Grounded,” California Energy Markets, January 23, 1998, p. 2.

“‘A condor Cuisinart, that’s what it’d be,’ says Dan Beard, senior vice president of the National Audubon Society.  Preferring to avoid a showdown with conservationists, Enron, which is based in Houston, agreed to relocate the windmills at considerable delay and expense.”

– Jim Carlton, “An Electricity Crunch May Force the Nation Into Tough Tradeoffs,” Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2000, p. A1.

“Two golden eagles that were radio-tagged by University of California researchers have been killed by Altamont Pass windmills, raising questions about a proposal to radically revamp the sprawling wind farm.”

-Jonathon Weisman, “Two Dead Eagles Fuel Altamont Debate,” Tri-Valley Herald, September 12, 1995, p. A1.

“An ongoing study of bird kills in California’s Altamont Pass has found that the wind farms there are causing more bird deaths than was previously thought.  Undertaken by BioResource Consultants for the National Renewable Energy Lab, the study has found a fatality rate of 0.23 birds per turbine per year, more than twice as high as any other California wind farm.  Extrapolated to the 5000 turbines at Altamont Pass, the total could be as high as 1150 birds, though study author Carl Thelander conservatively estimates ‘a minimum of 400 to 500 birds, no doubt.’  Previous studies of bird deaths in the area have estimated between 200 and 300 kills a year.  About half of the birds killed are raptors, Thelander believes, including about 50 golden eagles a year.  These are not classified as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but they are specifically protected in the US by the Bald Eagle Protection Act.”

– Bentham Paulos, “Study Shows Higher Bird Kill Rate,” Windpower Monthly, July 2000, p. 31.

“‘Kill the condor’ is the eye-catching message emblazoned on two huge roadside billboards erected last month in Houston and Los Angeles.  The billboards show a California Condor—one of America’s most endangered species of birds—flying towards wind turbines.  The advertisements are part of a major month-long campaign launched in September by the National Audubon Society (NAS), a leading bird conservation group, to halt a wind farm proposed in the north of Los Angeles County by Enron Corp, the large energy company based in Houston.  Not surprisingly, the campaign has prompted wide media attention.”

– Ros Davidson, “Condor Campaign Blows Ill Media Wind,” Windpower Monthly, October 1999, p. 29.

“Fish and Wildlife Service . . . officials have expressed concern.  ‘We do know that wind farms cause bird mortality,’ says Robert Mesta of the condor program in California.  ‘Our highest source of mortality is condors colliding with manmade structures, such as power and communication lines,’ he explains.  ‘We definitely have a concern.  We don’t have many birds out there.  If we lose one, it’s significant.’”

– Ros Davidson, “Condor Campaign Blows Ill Media Wind,” p. 30.

“The National Audubon Society launched a campaign to stop the proposed wind farm . . . in the Tehachapi Mountains, north of Los Angeles. . . .  Audubon and other environmental groups are upset because the site is only a few miles from one of the last nesting pairs of California condors. . . . ‘It is hard to image a worse idea than putting a condor Cuisinart next door to critical condor habitat,’ Audubon’s David Beard told the press.”

– Jonathan Adler, “The Problem with Wind Power,” The Weekly Standard, October 25, 1999, p. 17.

“The wind energy companies have directed their efforts toward research that mitigates bird collision impacts. . . .  So far, no single approach has resulted in a simple, effective solution . . . .   We expect current bird fatality levels in the Altamont Pass [wind resource area] to be very similar to the 1991 study results.  Very little has been done by the wind companies to effectively change the situation, and the eagle population has not changed significantly.”

– California Energy Commission, memo from Dick Anderson, biologist, to Tom Tanton, “Wind Energy/Bird Interaction Questions,” December 29, 1997, p. 1.

“Radio-tagged and non-radio-tagged golden eagles continue to die at the Altamont Pass [wind resource area or WRA].  Preliminary results from CEC work at Tehachapi and San Gorgonio Pass WRAs show that wind turbines also kill birds in those locations, but the number of birds killed does not appear to be at a significant level.  There are fewer raptors using the Tehachapi and San Gorgonio Pass WRAs and, therefore, fewer raptor deaths.  There are also smaller birds being killed by wind turbines at the various developed sites, and depending on the location and legal status of the birds involved, these also could result in legal and biological concerns.”

– California Energy Commission, memo from Dick Anderson, biologist, to Tom Tanton, “Wind Energy/Bird Interaction Questions,” December 29, 1997, p. 2.

“The best strategy to avoid bird fatalities at future facilities is to develop new wind parks in low bird-use areas.  Unfortunately, in existing areas, we do not have mitigation measures or alternative turbine designs that have been tested in the field and proven effective in reducing bird fatalities.”

– California Energy Commission, memo from Dick Anderson, biologist, to Tom Tanton, p. 2.

“Avian fatality at wind turbines is probably universal.  Whether this is a significant issue legally or biologically is a site-specific and species-specific determination.  There are differences in bird use and in the resulting fatality numbers at different WRAs.  Avian fatality is a WRA location-specific, turbine site-specific, and species-specific problem.  The problem has not been corrected.  The issue is being studied at numerous locations throughout the nation to better understand how birds are being killed.  The information resulting from these studies should help identify differing bird risk situations and lead to specific measures tailored to mitigate specific situations.  It is clear that no one measure will resolve the issue.  Instead, it is likely a number of specific measures targeting specific situations will be needed to reduce avian fatalities to an acceptable level.  In two to five years, much more will be known about this issue and hopefully some effective reduction measures identified and tested.  However, this will only happen if research continues at a sustained level.”

– California Energy Commission, memo from Dick Anderson, biologist, to Tom Tanton, p. 3.

“An unexpected impact of widespread wind turbine development in California has been the deaths of birds from collision with turbines.  These deaths have generated controversy about the potential impacts of wind turbine facilities on bird populations. . . .  The potential impacts of windfarm developments and their supporting network of transmission lines include mortality from collision with structures or wires, electrocution, changes in foraging or migratory patterns, habitat reduction, and prey base changes.  Of particular concern is the impact of windfarms on raptors (birds or prey), which are protected by both state and federal laws.”

– California Energy Commission, Wind Turbine Effects on Avian Activity, Habitat Use, and Mortality in Altamont Pass and Solano County Wind Resource Areas, 1989-1991, Final Report, March 1992, p. ix.

“Our estimate of the number of raptors killed by windfarm-related injuries within the entire Altamont Pass WRA varied from 403 in the first year of the study to 164 during the second year.  Of these raptor deaths, we conservatively estimated that 39 golden eagles were killed each year.  Sixty-nine percent of all golden eagle deaths were attributed to collisions with turbines.  These estimates have a large potential for error because of the number of variables involved and the small number of fresh carcasses found. . . .  Nevertheless, we believe our estimates are cause for concern, especially for golden eagles which are federally protected under the Bald Eagle Protection Act and are a California species of special concern.  Furthermore, the Altamont Pass WRA is considered an important wintering area for golden eagles.”

– California Energy Commission, Wind Turbine Effects on Avian Activity, pp. xi-xii.

“Since the 1980s the Altamont Pass has hosted the world’s largest concentration of [wind] turbines.  In 1991 it boasted almost 7000 units, though this has dropped to a little over 5000 as old projects have failed.  Three factors have been seen as important in drafting the  [environmental] plan, noise, visual impact, and birds.  It is the bird problem, however, which is the overriding concern of planners. . . .  Bird kills in the Altamont Pass have become highly controversial—in part because the 35,000-acre area has the greatest concentration of nesting golden eagle pairs anywhere in the world.  As a result it has had the unenviable role of being on the cutting edge of knowledge on bird deaths in wind farms.”

– Ros Davidson, “New Rules for the Altamont Pass,” Windpower Monthly, July 1998, p. 35.

“Preparation of the environmental management plan [for Altamont Pass] comes as local newspapers are releasing new information on bird kills in an effort, presumably, to sway the planning process.  Eighty-five golden eagles were killed between January 1995 and March 1998, out of a total of 679 avian kills, reports the Contra Costa Times.  Thirty-six of the eagles were killed in 1997, says the newspaper, which analyses wind industry figures reported to Alameda County.  About 100 golden eagle pairs nest in the Altamont Pass area.  Golden eagles are protected under the migratory bird Treaty and Bald Eagle Protection Act.  The paper also reports that wind turbines may be killing as many eagles in the areas as those that die from all other causes combined.  Of the 179 golden eagles radio-tagged in January 1994 by biologists studying the phenomenon of wind turbines and bird kills, only 80 are still alive.  An estimated one-third to one-half of the 99 deaths are attributed to collisions or electrocutions on wind farms, according to biologist Grainger Hunt with the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group.”

– Ros Davidson, op cit., p. 37.

“Within a couple of years after wind, biomass, and geothermal power projects began rising off drawing boards, conflicts arose between project sponsors and the environmental advocates they expected to support them.  ‘Wind power and other alternative energy sources are breaking up old alliances,’ reported the San Francisco Examiner,  ‘pitting pragmatists who want to make development livable against purists who’ve had enough of compromise.’”

– Robert Kahn, “Siting Struggles:  The Unique Challenge of Permitting Renewable Energy Power Plants, The Electricity Journal, March 2000, p. 28.

“Wind power is currently the environmentalists’ favorite source of renewable energy and is thought to be the most likely renewable energy source to replace fossil fuel in the generation of electricity in the 21st century.  Hydropower has lost favor with environmentalists because of the damage it has done to river habitats and freshwater fish populations.  Solar power, at least when relied on for central-station or grid electricity generation, is not environmentally benign on a total fuel cycle basis and is highly uneconomic, land intensive, and thus a fringe electric power source for the foreseeable future.  Geothermal has turned out to be “depletable,” with limited capacity, falling output, and modest new investment.  Biomass is also uneconomic and an air-pollution-intensive renewable.”

– Robert Bradley Jr, “Renewable Energy:  Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’” Cato Institute Policy Analysis, No. 280, August 27, 1997, p. 2.

“In testimony before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council argued against opening the electricity industry to competition and customer choice because of the ‘development of significant new transmission and distribution lines to link buyers and sellers of power’. . . .  Yet Altamont Pass’s 7,000 turbines (located near Cavanagh’s San Francisco office) have a record of sizable avian mortality, large land-use requirements, disturbing noise, and ‘visual blight.’”

– Robert Bradley Jr, “Renewable Energy:  Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’”, p. 20.

“The argument that the actual space used by wind towers is much smaller than the total acreage of wind farms (as little as 1 percent of the land is actually occupied) is the ‘footprint’ argument that eco-energy planners refuse to consider for petroleum extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.”

– Robert Bradley Jr, “Renewable Energy:  Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’”, p. 22.

“Why have so many eco-energy planners clung to wind power, a land-intensive, unsightly, noisy, and wildlife-unfriendly source of energy that accounted for only 1/10 of 1 percent of total U.S. power generation in 1995 (3.2 of 3,365 billion kWh), and 1/5 of 1 percent of the total U.S. electricity capacity of 770 GW?  The answer is that if wind power joins hydroelectric power (and other troubled renewables) on the no-longer-preferred list of renewable energy sources, there are really few, if any, realistic alternatives, to fossil-fuel-fired generation in the foreseeable future.”

– Robert Bradley Jr, “Renewable Energy:  Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’”, p. 26.

“If wind fails the bird test as hydropower fails the fish test, or if wind becomes economically unsustainable in the United States, solar power will have to shoulder a greater load.  Economic, environmental, and scale problems, however, limit solar’s potential as an electric utility power source despite improving technology.”

– Robert Bradley Jr, “Renewable Energy:  Not Cheap, Not ‘Green’”, p. 28.

“The growing [wind] industry has caused a kind of identity crisis among people who think of themselves as pro-environment, forcing them to choose between the promise of clean, endlessly renewable energy and the perils of imposing giant man-made structures on nature.”

– Katherine Seelye, “Windmills Farms Sow Environmentalists’ Identity Crisis,” New York Times, June 5, 2003, p. A22.


“I’ll tell you about our [Environmental Protection Agency administrator] Carol Browner meeting that went so horrible?  So I bring the industry from all over the country to meet with Carol [including] . . . the biggest solar pool heating company.  They go around talking about what they do.  And [Browner] is stonefaced. . . .  And she goes ‘I hate swimming pools.’  And he goes, ‘Why?’  And she goes, ‘Well, they’re just vats of chemicals.’”

– Scott Sklar, Solar Energy Industry Association, quoted in Joseph Schuler Jr., “Let’s Schmooze,” Public Utilities Fortnightly, April 15, 1998, p. 37.

“Solar-electric technologies also kill birds.  Southern California Edison estimated that its solar concentrator near Barstow, Solar One, killed 70 songbirds during one study.  Biologists estimated that the 10-MW solar plant killed 2 birds per week or about 100 per year.  The birds died primarily from collisions with the picture-window-like surface of the heliostats.  There have also been reports of collisions with photovoltaic panels, for similar reasons.  Although the heliostats at Solar One may kill 10 times the number of birds per megawatt as the Altamont Pass wind turbines, the species killed are of lesser concern and certainly of lesser symbolic value that the golden eagles and other raptors killed in the Altamont Pass.”

– Paul Gipe, Wind Energy Comes of Age, p. 351.

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