Avian mortality is the scientific term applied in environmental assessments of windpower. But there is another term that has gained currency where industrial wind has impacted local bird activity.
This post documents the historical use of the term, which was coined by the Los Angeles representative of the Sierra Club in the late 1980s. The term came back into use when environmentalists challenged a project of Enron Wind Corporation, now a subsidiary of General Electric.
Looking back, if environmentalists and regulatory authorities had cracked down on industrial wind, this artificial government-dependent industry could have been avoided altogether or shut down.
Instead, with Big Environmentalism leading the way, and anti-energy intellectuals welcoming the high cost-low reliability of wind, this inferior power source has been allowed to grow.
And now, grass-roots environmentalists are leading the charge against industrial wind.
A Term is Born
Here is the origin of the term as told by Paul Gipe in Wind Energy Comes of Age (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995, p. 450):
At the height of the Gorman [California] 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 on the Problem
Paul Gipe himself openly dealt with this problem of windpower, as stated by Chris Flavin in his Foreword to Gipe’s book (xiv–xv).
To its credit, Wind Energy Comes of Age tackles even the most nettlesome issues plaguing the wind industry, including the problem of bird kills, often referred to euphemistically as “avian mortality.”
Although the magnitude of the problem is not yet fully clear, Paul raises important warning flags about the dangers of not taking it and other environmental issues seriously. Unless the industry heeds Paul’s warnings, it will lose the environmental high-ground that helped get it where it is today. . . .
Even those who feel stung by his criticisms would do well to remember the fate of the nuclear power industry, and others that chose to ignore early problems.
Here is the early history of the “bird problem” as described by Gipe (p. 343):
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.
Gipe also states (p. 353):
“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.
And here (p. 344):
“In California, golden eagles are a ‘species of special concern.’ This designation mandates that Fish and Game protect them. Federal law in the United States also prohibits the ‘taking’ of golden eagles under the Bald Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Taking is a euphemism for killing. . . . Anyone who ‘knowingly or with wanton disregard’ kills bald or golden eagles commits a felony in the United States, punishable by two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.”
He continues on the California controversy (pp. 344–45):
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.
“Cuisinart” Attack on Enron Wind Corporation
The Cuisinart rap reappeared during another California wind siting controversy, one that was picked up by Jim Carlton in the Wall Street Journal (An Electricity Crunch May Force the Nation Into Tough Tradeoffs,” October 10, 2000, p. A1):
“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.
And as reported in Windpower Monthly (Ros Davidson, “Condor Campaign Blows Ill Media Wind,” October 1999, p. 29):
“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.
So what has happened in the last decade regarding industrial wind in bird-sensitive areas? Comments and updates welcome!