“Out-of-control windfarm development is hurting many protected species, riding as it does on the optimistic estimates put out by hired consultants, government agencies, bird societies, the wind industry and its agents, and pro-wind activists. It is also facilitated by considerable flows of public money, in the form of subsidies, tax credits, special loans, carbon certificates, and more. These millions of dollars (billions in those countries that have thousands of wind turbines) enable private interests to remove all obstacles to their greed, and this includes overriding nature protection legislation.”
Something obviously happened between the high mortality found in the early days of wind farms (see the work of biologists such as Winkelman, Benner, Lekuona, and Everaert) and present estimates as low as one bird per turbine/year being “predicted” in Australia (see post yesterday), France, the UK, and other countries.
Could it be that actual mortality has come down to such a low level? Not in the least: if you need convincing, see the mortality statistics at Altamont Pass, Macarthur, and Wolfe Island.
What actually happened was that powerful political and financial interests have worked together towards deceiving our perception of mortality from wind turbines – i.e. putting in place a cover-up. To succeed in this mystification, it was essential to obtain the cooperation of ornithological NGOs. This was generally done by way of donations, and a plethora of attractive contracts: impact studies for wind projects, monitoring avian mortality once the projects are built, modelling ornithological mortality etc… In countries with high penetration of “green” energy, the wind industry quickly became the main employer of ornithologists.
In Spain, Iberdrola and Banco Triodos (the renewable energies’ bank) used to make donations to SEO-Birdlife amounting to nearly 25% of its budget. After a number of years, this finally caused some dissension among members, eventually resulting in the departure of the General Manager, Alejandro Sánchez, in 2010. (1) Less than two years later, the ornithological society published its estimate of windfarm mortality in Spain, revealing the enormity of the massacre (9). But their report was neither published nor mentioned by ornithological societies in other countries – what better proof of the collusion between wind interests and ornithology?
An average of 200 dead birds per turbine per year is not at all surprising: it is less than one bird per 24 hours. It could easily be more, considering that song birds migrate at night, to avoid overheating. On moonless nights, all they can see from the turbines are the position lights on the nacelles, while the blades are slashing through the air at up to 300 km/h, invisible, up to 30, 40 or 50 meters away…
Accidents also happen during the day, particularly in the case of those species that are attracted to wind turbines. This attraction puts their lives in danger, because the blades can reach speeds of 300 km/h at the tip (see further below). It is the case for swallows, swifts and other birds that catch insects on the wing; Professor Ahlén found that they look for insects that are themselves attracted to wind turbines. (2)
THE CASE OF RAPTORS
It is also the case of raptors, which are attracted by dead or wounded birds or bats that lie under the turbines, or by the mice and rabbits that live there. Indeed, rodents find plenty of food in these open spaces covered in gramineae; also, it is easy to dig burrows where the soil has been softened up by foundation work – see picture below.
Perched on the still blades (picture further below), or on the nacelles, birds of prey have a commanding view of this exceptional hunting territory. Many will hunt successfully without getting struck by a blade. But their very success will cause their brains to establish a connection between wind turbines and great hunting opportunities. Thus, when they spot some wind turbines, which may be seen from many miles away, they will be attracted to them. Young, unattached raptors will therefore visit many wind farms, and so will adults on migration.
Breeding adults, on the other hand, will only visit the wind turbines within their territories, but will do it over and over again. In either case, the more time they spend near the turbines, the greater the chances they will be struck by a blade, the speed of which it is very easy to misjudge . For birds as for humans, the blades appear to be moving at a leisurly pace.
Yet, they travel at up to 300km/h at their tip. Here is the calculation for a 2.3 MW ENERCON Model E-70: 71m (diameter) x 3.14 = circumference of 223m x 21.5 revolutions per minute (in winds above 45 km/h) = 4.794m travelled by the tip of each blade in a minute x 60 minutes = 287,640m travelled in an hour, i.e. at a speed of 287km/h. In low winds, the speed is of 100 – 200 km/h. The difference between apparent slowness and actual high speed, plus the attraction they exert, are what turn wind turbines into deadly traps for birds and bats.
Raptors, experience has shown, are prone to be decimated by wind turbines (13). Yet these birds are very useful to us, as they control certain animal populations (rats, mice, rabbits, and nest plunderers such as magpies, crows etc.). They also eliminate sick or dead animals, thus preventing epidemics and contributing to the health of many species. Their role is important for the maintenance of natural balances, biodiversity and ecosystems.
Yet, a new peer-reviewed study is alerting us that wind turbines are partly responsible for the coming extinction of some species of raptors (in southern Europe). One of them, the Egyptian Vulture, is seeing its population of breeding adults decline by 3-4% per year. (4) This spectacular glider is already very rare in Europe, and millions of euros have been spent for its protection (and its reintroduction in France).
Perching opportunities make wind turbines attractive to raptors, so does the prey or carcasses to be found under them (as we commented above). Here are more pictures (5), and videos (25 and 26) proving the point. But consultants promote the fiction that raptors “avoid” wind turbines, and the ornithology profession turns a blind eye to that baseless assertion, all of which is helping their common employers: wind farm promoters. But if raptors avoided wind turbines, why would so many be killed by their blades? (3)
Consultants use a wide array of deceptive tricks, which they developped over the years. I listed some of them years ago in an article, “the Shame of Scotland.”  One of these tricks has been pushed to unprecedented levels in Australia: the “core-range manipulation.” (6)
There, consultants have decided, based upon unscientific, biased and unpublished observations, that wind turbines can be safely erected as close as 300 meters from the nests of eagles or other raptors. For instance, in the Bulgana Windfarm Flora and Fauna Assessment Report No. 13051 (7.6), page 97, we read: “Previous studies on wind farms have shown that resident Wedge-tailed Eagles are able to successfully nest and raise young on wind farms, if turbines are located at least 300 metres away (BL&A unpublished data )”.
Years ago, I debunked an identical assertion which was based on 24 searches spread over two years at the Challicum Hills wind farm – hardly constituting solid scientific evidence, to say the least. Biosis even admitted: “the work does not discount the possibility of WT eagle collisions.” (7) Yet the fiction perdures, and wind turbines continue to be erected in Australia as close as 300 meters from eagle and other raptors’ nests. Nowhere else in the world are protected birds being treated so carelessly.
We have seen the tragic results of this attitude at Woolnorth, Macarthur, Starfish Hill, etc. Australia’s eagles are being slaughtered, but the cover-up keeps Australians uninformed. By contrast, Scottish raptor expert Michael J. McGrady recommends a 5 km buffer zone for the Golden Eagle, in the peer-reviewed study “A model of golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) ranging behavior”, J. Raptor Res. 36 (1 Supplement): 62-69 – by McGrady, M.J., Grant, J. R., Baingridge, I. P. & David R.A. McLeod D.R.A. (2002). (8)
This study and its recommendation are mentioned in SEO-Birdlife’s guide for the assessment of windfarms as regards bird life, in which one can find the buffer zones recommended by scientists for various protected bird species.’ (8) The shortest is 1 km, for the smallest of the kestrel species. For eagles, they vary from 5 to 10 km (18). Ospreys (“Águila pescadora” in Spanish): 2 km. Peregrine falcons: 2 – 4 km. Cranes: 10 km.
Plundering Nature with Public Funds
Out-of-control windfarm development is hurting many protected species, riding as it does on the optimistic estimates put out by hired consultants, government agencies, bird societies, the wind industry and its agents, pro-wind activists etc. It is also facilitated by considerable flows of public money, in the form of subsidies, tax credits, special loans, carbon certificates, etc. These millions of dollars (billions in those countries that have thousands of wind turbines) enable private interests to remove all obstacles to their greed, and this includes overriding nature protection legislation.
Migration routes and stopover areas, shrinking habitat of threatened species (e.g. brolgas), high bird-traffic areas bordering natural reserves (e.g. Bald Hills, Victoria), nothing is sacred: the plunder has no limits. Planning authorities which give the green light to wind projects rarely have other bird data at hand than what’s reported in impact studies prepared by unethical consultants. I read about a hundred of these reports over the past 12 years, and none concluded that the impact on the environment would be unacceptable, even when the project was to be located inside a protected nature reserve, or was threatening an endangered species with extinction. None of them was honest, without errors or omissions, and free of manipulations.
To obtain approval for wind projects that will highly impact protected species, consultants usually suggest applying some techniques for avoiding, minimising, or attenuating the risks of collision. They call these “mitigation”. But we must be aware that none of these schemes, none of these formulas have proved effective. Wherever they have been implemented, they have failed (Altamont Pass, Woolnorth, Smola, Tarifa). The President of the French bird society LPO-Birdlife acknowledged the fact that mitigation does not work . (9)
In situations where opponents to a wind project have raised the issue of bat mortality, consultants often propose a mitigation which consists in increasing the cut-in wind speed to, say, 6 meters per second. This means not letting the blades rotate unless the speed of the wind exceeds 22 km/h. The idea is that, as few bats fly when the wind exceeds that speed, mortality will be reduced by about 90%. We would comment on this particular mitigation with three observations:
– The promised reduction in mortality to 90% has not been verified. To our knowledge, no wind farm has put this measure into practice and published the results.
– A 10% residual mortality is considered by consultants to be negligible, as if it were acceptable to kill 1.2 million bats per year instead of 12 million (supposing a country that has, or will have, 18,000 wind turbines as in Spain). Most bat species are endangered, all are extremely useful. Killing them in such numbers is irresponsible. Also consider that the figure of 1,2 million will be much higher, as a) the reduction to 10% is unproven, b) only few wind projects contemplate “bat mitigation”.
– The practical application of such a measure is not verifiable . Indeed, who would make sure that, during 25 years, the computer program controlling the feathering of the blades a) reflects that mitigation, b) is in good order and c) is being applied? The interest of the windfarm owner is to not apply it, as it reduces his income. Thus, inspectors would be needed, but who would pay them during 25 years? It would have to be the State. And who would ensure that the operators of the wind farms will not “convince” these civil servants to turn a blind eye? Indeed, wind farms are often associated with corruption. (10)
(3) – Some of the eagles killed by wind turbines (tip of the iceberg) http://www.iberica2000.org/es/Articulo.asp?Id=3071 – Last updated in 2006
– Some of the ospreys killed by wind turbines (tip of the iceberg) http://savetheeaglesinternational.org/new/843-2.html
– Effects on red kites http://rapaces.lpo.fr/sites/default/files/milan-royal/63/actesmilan150.pdf (pages 96, 97).
(4) – Study “Action on multiple fronts, illegal poisoning and wind farm planning, is required to reverse the decline of the Egyptian vulture in southern Spain.” Ana Sanz-Aguilar, José Antonio Sánchez-Zapata, Martina Carrete, José Ramón Benítez, Enrique Ávila, Rafael Arenas f, José Antonio Donázar (a). Study published on April 21 2015 by ELSEVIER, Biological Conservation, Volume 187, July 2015, pages 10–18 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320715001408
(6) – The Shame of Scotland: http://www.iberica2000.org/es/Articulo.asp?Id=3426 See –> ” 3 . THE CORE RANGE MANIPULATION ”
(7) – http://www.iberica2000.org/es/Articulo.asp?Id=4313 See –> ” 4 – The precedent of Challicum Hills ”
(8) – https://www.seo.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/MANUAL-MOLINOS-VERSION-31_WEB.pdf See –> Annex II, pages 106 and 107 Literature review of recommended buffer zones and sizes of home range for eagles and other raptors.