Donal's picture

    Birds, Bats and Wind

    We were driving "down the mountain" from Cresson to Altoona last weekend, when I saw over a dozen idle wind turbines on a ridge to the North, towards Buckhorn Mountain, or as they say in Altoona, "the Buckhorn." I knew about the two Allegheny Ridge wind turbine arrays to the South, shown above, but I hadn't heard about anything to the North. Neither had my Altoid in-laws. According to Pop City, the Chestnut Flats array of turbines was a go in 2010:

    Two major wind energy projects in Southwestern Pennsylvania will generate jobs and renewable energy thanks to $17.8 million in federal stimulus funding.

    Gov. Rendell announced three separate grants for the state this week, including two on the western side of the state. Cambria County wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa will receive $7.8 million toward the construction of 19 two-megawatt wind turbines at the Chestnut Flats Wind Farm in Cambria and Blair counties. The project is expected to create 85 jobs.

    According to the Altoona Mirror, by late February of 2011 Chestnut Flats was in limbo until the sale of the property to an undisclosed firm, which a commenter said was probably Iberdrola Renewables, a US subsidiary of a large Spanish energy firm, which already owns several wind sites in PA. But a May 2011 article reprinted in the Salisbury News adds a new wrinkle:

    Delmarva Power says it is seeking approval from Delaware regulators to move a proposed western Maryland wind farm to central Pennsylvania.

    Delmarva spokeswoman Bridget Shelton says the Maryland site had faced challenges over the possible impact on federally protected Indiana bats. Shelton says Delmarva is seeking approval to move the project to the Chestnut Flats site in Pennsylvania's Blair County, where an agreement has been reached that should prevent litigation over bats.

    Yeah, we're easy in PA.

    On August 8th, Environment & Energy Publishing LLC's ClimateWire published Bats and Birds Face Serious Threats From Growth of Wind Energy. E&E is subscription only but the article was also published in the NY Times.

    ... the rapid growth and expansion of wind farms has had an increasingly significant effect on birds and bats, especially since, according to the GSR, the average wind turbine size has increased. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC), an avian conservation group, observes that upward of 14 birds per megawatt of wind energy are killed each year, numbering more than 440,000. The organization projects the number will rise substantially as wind energy production increases.

    And not just at Altamont.

    According to FWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service], birds are killed when they collide directly with turbine blades. Statistics show more birds are killed by cats and windows, to the tune of hundreds of millions. But turbines pose a unique threat to all birds, including endangered species, like whooping cranes, and raptors, like eagles, hawks and falcons.

    Electrical infrastructure around turbines, like power lines, also poses hazards to birds, said FWS in a report on bird mortality.

    Bats, on the other hand, face different problems around wind farms. [They] can't detect the invisible swath of low pressure left behind turning blades. Bats then fly into this area, and their internal airways rapidly expand, causing internal bleeding. ... [Barotrauma] accounts for more than half of all turbine-related fatalities in bats, according to a 2008 paper in the journal Current Biology.

    The die-off is troubling because bat populations are already under stress from white nose syndrome, a spreading epidemic fungal infection that kills more than a million bats annually. This is exacerbated by bats' slow reproductive rate and decades-long life expectancy, meaning populations are slow to recover. ...

    Bat deaths also carry substantial economic consequences. Because of their voracious appetite for insects, bats are excellent for natural pest control. A paper published in the journal Science in March said bats typically save farmers $74 per acre, and the study projects that bat deaths can cost $3.7 billion annually in crop losses.

    FWS has tried to work with the wind industry to mitigate bat and bird casualties.

    Last month, FWS released another draft of its wind energy guidelines. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a wind industry advocacy group, expressed approval for the new document. Tom Vinson, AWEA's senior director of federal regulatory affairs, described it as an "extraordinary achievement."

    We call wind and solar alternative energy, but wind companies are much like any other energy companies and are run by some of the same people. AWEA (and WindPAC) are run by Denise Bode - who was past president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, unelected Republican candidate for AG and Congress in Oklahoma, and founder of the American Clean Skies Foundation, a natural gas advocacy group, before taking over AWEA.

    The ABC, on the other hand, was aghast. The revised guidelines removed much of the previous language about protecting birds as well as other suggested measures to protect wildlife, and what little remained is voluntary, said Bob Johns, director of public relations for the ABC.

    "What's difficult to overlook is the number of times the word 'should' is used," said Johns. "There is no reference to 'must' and 'shall.'"

    However, the ABC is still in favor of wind power. "We are a supporter of wind," said Johns. "We think it has the potential to be very green. All we're saying is do it right. It's not hard to do. There are a limited number of sites where [harm to wildlife] would be an issue."

    As Miller-McCune noted in Corporations, Meet Transparency, companies don't comply with environmental regulations unless you make them comply, and even then, they often opt to pay the comparatively small fines. “Let’s not delude ourselves; the only way to get companies to do something is to pass laws that force them to do it.”



    Good stuff, but I'd like to see more of an emphasis on solutions. They say, "It's not hard to do", but I'm not sure what the solutions are other than to move to sites where the wildlife at stake is less endangered. What other solutions have been proposed? Is it feasible, for example, to put up a wire mesh or something? Can annoying sounds beyond the human audible range be used to repel birds/bats? I'm just brainstorming here, so maybe these ideas are idiotic.

    There was discussion of using radar in the ClimateWire article, but greens don't actually want to drive the animals out of their habitat. There was also discussion of using vertical axis wind turbines, but AIUI they aren't as efficient in generating power.

    I think the problem is one of planning and design, and as I have experienced, no one likes to have to meet another code.

    There is nothing that is free.

    Change one thing in an environment and a hundred events could take place affecting the populations of thousands of species.

    There is no free lunch and certainly no free energy.

    In the end every new advance of industry must survive a benefits/burden test.

    Nobody is going to tell me that birds are not killed every day as a direct result of some coal burning electrical plant. Birds die, fish die, certain insects die...people die.

    Kill off all the bats and a lot of crops will die.

    So,  what's been killing off the birds and bats before the turbines were up?  Did turbines kill the bees too?  Do people get cancer from the wind energy? Is there an emergency plan for a huge wind spill? least the snakes are safe.  <--- (all sarcasm)


    Is anyone seeing the absurdity of this?  Have you ever watched the trucks in and out near the entrance to a deep mine? Seen the disruption of trees, water and animal habitat at a strip mining site? Have you ever seen the grounds around a gas drilling site 10 years later?  

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