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Killer Energy (Time to Apply Endangered Species, Wildlife Laws to Windpower?)

By -- January 18, 2012

Gleaming white wind turbines generating carbon-free electricity carpet chaparral-covered ridges and march down into valleys of Joshua trees.” Such is “the future” of American energy,  not “the oil rigs planted helter-skelter in [nearby] citrus groves.”

So reads a recent Forbes article. But Wind vs. Bird by Todd Woody also raises concern about the fate of a 300-megawatt “green” turbine project threatening California condors, a species just coming back from the edge of extinction. The project might be cancelled as a result.

Indeed, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has asked Kern County to “exercise extreme caution” in approving projects in the Tehapachi area, because of potential threats to condors. The “conundrum will force some hard choices about the balance we are willing to strike between obtaining clean energy and preserving wild things,” the article suggested. Hopefully, it concluded, new “avian radar units” will be able to detect condors and automatically shut down turbines when one approaches.

All Americans hope condors will not be sliced and diced by giant Cuisinarts. But most of us are puzzled that so few “environmentalists” and FWS “caretakers” express concern about the countless bald and golden eagles, hawks, falcons, vultures, ducks, geese, bats, and other rare, threatened, endangered and common flying creatures imperiled by turbine blades.

And many of us get downright angry at the selective way endangered species and other wildlife laws are applied – leaving wind turbine operators free to exact their carnage, while harassing and punishing oil companies and citizens.

“Avian Mortality”: Not New

This is hardly a new issue. In his August 1997 essay for the Cato Institute, Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not “Green”, Robert Bradley documented the “avian mortality” problem before taking to task one of the nation’s leading (anti-) energy environmentalists who was just a car ride away from well-documented windpower carnage:

Wind power’s land disturbance, noise, and unsightly turbines also present environmental drawbacks, at least from the perspective of some if not many mainstream environmentalists. Yet at least one well-known environmental group has a double standard when considering wind power versus other energy options. 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. In addition to the visual blight of additional power lines on the landscape, these corridors can displace threatened or endangered species.”

Bradley continues:

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.” The irony of visual blight was not lost on environmental philosopher Roderick Nash, who, referring to the Santa Barbara environmentalists, asked, “If offshore rigs offend, can a much greater number of windmills be any better?”

A double standard … and for a long time.

Tough Enforcement … Elsewhere

In 2011, following a million-dollar, 45-day helicopter search for dead birds in North Dakota oil fields, U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon prosecuted seven oil and gas companies for inadvertently killing 28 mallard ducks, flycatchers, and other common birds that were found dead in or near uncovered waste pits. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the companies and their executive officers faced fines of up to $15,000 per bird, plus six months in prison. (They eventually agreed to plead guilty and pay $1,000 per bird.)

Also in 2011, a FWS agent charged an 11-year-old Virginia girl with illegally possessing a baby woodpecker that the girl had rescued from a housecat, even though she intended to release the bird after ensuring it was OK. The threatened $535 fine was finally dropped, after the FWS was deservedly ridiculed in the media.

The mere possession of an eagle feather by a non-Indian can result in fines and imprisonment, even if the feather came from a bird butchered by a wind turbine: up to $100,000, a year in prison or both for a first offense. Poisoning or otherwise killing common bats that have nested in one’s attic can cost homeowners thousands of dollars in fines.

Windpower’s Escape

Wind turbine companies, officers, and employees, however, are immune from prosecution, fines or imprisonment, regardless of how many rare, threatened, endangered, or migratory birds and bats they kill. In fact, FWS data show that wind turbines slaughter some 400,000 birds every year. If “helter-skelter” applies to any energy source, it is wind turbines, reflecting their Charles Manson effect on birds.

The hypocritical Obama-Purdon-FWS policy exists solely to protect, promote, and advance an anti-hydrocarbon agenda that is increasingly at odds with environmental, scientific, economic, job-creation and public opinion reality – and to safeguard wind turbines that survive solely because of government mandates, taxpayer subsidies … and exemptions from laws that rule, penalize, and terrorize the rest of us.

Even if avian radar and turbine shutdown systems do eventually work, should they be limited to condors? Shouldn’t they be required for eagles and falcons – and for hawks, ducks, flycatchers, bats, and other protected species? For geese, to prevent a repeat of the December 7, 2011, massacre of numerous snow geese by wind turbines along upstate New York Route 190, as reported by a motorist?

Why aren’t wind developers and permitting authorities required to consider the lost economic benefits of butchered birds and bats, which do so much to control rats and insects that carry diseases and destroy crops?

Of course, even condor protection alone would likely limit affected turbine electricity output to 10% or 20% of rated capacity, instead of their current 30% average. Adding other protected species would drive nearly all actual wind turbine electricity output down below 5% – making the turbines virtually worthless, and driving the exorbitant cost of wind energy even higher.

But why should wind turbines be above the law? Why should we even worry about reducing their electricity output?


America’s environmentalists, legislators, judges, and bureaucrats have already made hundreds of millions of acres of resource-rich land off limits – and rendered centuries of oil, gas, coal, uranium, geothermal, and other energy unavailable. The Environmental Protection Agency’s anti-coal aero-pollution rules, intense opposition to the Keystone pipeline, and looming restrictions on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas are already further impairing electricity and other energy availability and reliability.

This government-imposed energy deprivation is already driving families into energy poverty and sending more jobs overseas.

Put bluntly, wind energy is unsustainable. It kills unconscionable numbers of bats, raptors, and other birds. It requires billions in perpetual subsidies – and billions more for (mostly) gas-fired backup generators. It impacts millions of acres of scenic, wildlife, and agricultural land – and uses vast amounts of raw materials, whose extraction and processing further impairs global land, air, and water quality. Its expensive, unreliable electricity kills two jobs for every one supposedly created.

A far more rational public policy would cut the crony out of capitalism and double out of standards.  Fair field, no favor.

So be it that wind turbines would fall by the wayside and consumers support conventional energies to generate reliable, affordable, sustainable electricity. Consumers? That is all of us. Energy planners? That is a small number of them.


Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black Death. His previous posts as MasterResource include:

Hassling Electricity: EPA’s Proposed MACT Rules(March 30, 2011);

Anti-Energy, Anti-Industrial Policy: When is Enough Enough?(March 11, 2011);

Dear EPA: Why is Wind Okay and Shale Gas Not?(March 2, 2011);

End the Ethanol Subsidies! (Congressional inaction would save taxpayers $6 billion, and bring other benefits too) (November 23, 2010).


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  3. Russell McC  

    About the phrase mentioned near the beginning of this article:
    “Hopefully, it concluded, new “avian radar units” will be able to detect condors and automatically shut down turbines when one approaches. ”
    The rotating mass of the turbine blades has a huge amount of inertia. With the high tip velocities reached by the blades, a braking system that could shut them down in time to save an approaching bird would result in the blades being snapped off and thrown for a considerable distance. Even reversing the pitch of the blades, so the wind would stop them, would not stop them in time to save a bird.


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