News / Science & Technology

Wind Turbines Take Steep Toll On Birds And Bats

Zulima Palacio
Wind power is key to efforts to produce clean, limitless energy and to slow global warming. It's one of the world's fastest-growing energy industries. But there is mounting evidence that expanding "wind farms" are taking a toll on airborne wildlife. Thousands of birds and bats are killed every year by collisions with the the wind towers and their giant blades. Environmental activists are taking the wind energy industry to court to find a solution.
Estimates by the Department of Energy indicate that in the United States alone, there will be more than 100,000 wind turbines by 2030.
John Anderson is policy director at the American Wind Energy Association. “As time goes on, I think you will see wind replacing older plants that are being taken offline, but we are really capturing the new installation market," he said. 
But wind energy developers, in California and West Virginia, are being sued by environmental groups. A growing number of groups contend that hundreds of thousands of birds and bats are being killed every year by wind turbines, mostly at night when bats and migratory birds fly around mountain ridges where many wind farms are located.  
Kelly Fuller, with the American Bird Conservancy, said, “In 2009, an expert at the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated 440,000 birds were being killed by wind turbines a year. That was before we had more growth of the industry.”
West Virginia, in the eastern U.S., is a migratory corridor for birds. It's also an important habitat for bats -- millions of which have been dying from White Nose Syndrome. The illness has brought some species to the brink of extinction.  Now they face another threat. This amateur video shows bats flying at sunset near wind turbines in West Virginia. 
Judy Rodd is director of Friends of Blackwater, a West Virginia conservation group.  She says this cave, close to a wind farm, houses thousands of hibernating bats during the winter.  “The first year, they found 430 dead bats and I think 50 dead birds in a very preliminary sketchy study. The expert that analyzed those numbers, Dr. Tom Kunz from Boston University, estimated that finding 430 dead bats meant that actually 10,000 bats had been killed in one year," she said. 
That's because the carcasses are scavenged by foxes, crows and other predators. 
The U.S. government supports wind energy development to reduce the use of fossil fuels and to fight global warming. 
David Cottingham is senior adviser at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  He says the service does not have the authority to halt a wind project that's on a migratory path. “But we do have the authority to prosecute them for violating the endangered species act," he said. 
Despite efforts to reduce wildlife collisions, no permanent solution has been found. The wind industry opposes shutting down or limiting turbine operations.  
Industry, government, and environmental experts agree that choosing different locations for wind farms could be a good solution.  But often the best wind currents are found in the paths that migratory birds and bats have been using for millions of years.  

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Comment Sorting
by: Mary from: Minnesota
October 19, 2012 9:19 PM
The AWEA has told the US government, and the USFWS, that they need to make adjustments to environmental and species protections to "bring certainty to developers and investors in the wind industry." The mandate of the USFWS is not to develop mitigation strategies to bring certainty for the AWEA's members. The USFWS is supposed to bring certainty to wildlife. The 8 state HCP being created for the AWEA, which will provide a multi-species Incidental Take Permit for 30 years, is disgusting. The USFWS is working on this FOR the wind industry. On one hand they say the only mitigation for turbines is siting, but then they excuse poor siting by issuing permits that make Take legal!

by: Barry
October 17, 2012 4:13 PM
Just one comment on this quote "David Cottingham is senior adviser at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the service does not have the authority to halt a wind project that's on a migratory path. “But we do have the authority to prosecute them for violating the endangered species act," he said. "

That is just a lie...they are doing everything they can to develop where ever they can. And they successfully removed the law that made them prosecute killers!

by: Barry from: NJ
October 17, 2012 4:10 PM
An Audubon study of a 5 Turbine wind farm in Atlantic City NJ found that each turbine killed 78 birds and bats EVERY YEAR, including endangered Peregrine Falcon(pop 50), Osprey, and others. Unfortunately there will not be any further studying these death machines here as the agreement says a 2 year impact the killing continues with more Industrial being forced into previously protected areas nearby! Development continues apace and the Department of Fish and Wildlife has been fully co-oped by the American Wind Energy Assoc. Billions are pouring into wind energy with many seeking to make an easy killing. Which sadly they truly are doing! A study in California found that Industrial Wind Turbines as the NUMBER ONE killers of Golden Eagles. Raptors are a low reproducing bird, so there will be no recovery until this madness is halted! The US FW sites 1-2 birds killed per year...which happens to be the number the AWEA sites... They also put out made up number of deaths by cars and building to try and diminish the over one million birds and bats being killed. It is not 400000! The American Wind Energy Lobbyist group is made up of Industrial companies with a poor record of doing what is right...this is about money...Billions. The people fighting this are doing it out of their pocket where as Wind Energy is massively subsidies with billions of cash and hordes of government works blindly industrial any open space they can find! We stopped a multi-turbine development within Cape Cod National Seashore.... If you are willing to industrialize a protected National Park....what is left to say how low you will go!

by: Barbara Durkin from: Central MA
October 14, 2012 12:35 AM
We need the USFWS to recommend the Department of Justice prosecute wind companies for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, and other strict liability criminal statutes that protect wildlife--as they have the oil companies.

I agree with Jim Weigand. Wind energy is an ecological sink hole, particularly when posed for flyways, or areas with high concentration of birds, or where endangered species and other wildlife are present.

The bitter irony is that wind energy, in its present form, offers no benefits--just adverse impacts. The wind lobby makes claims that this energy source is clean, limitless energy that will slow global warming. There's nothing environmentally friendly about processing or shipping, (from China to the US), 440' tall steel wind turbines, or required concrete foundations, hydraulic fluid, 8,000 industrial parts per turbine, or fiberglass blades spinning at 200 mph.

There are a few contexts in which a wind energy could be considered efficient. If you're looking for a bird and bat killing machine; conduit to public subsidies; or a "stalking horse" for the oil and gas or minerals rights' industry; or to launder money, or for a tax shelter as a syndicate, wind has potential, but it will more likely warm than cool the planet.

Wind energy is neither reliable nor affordable. The ecological sink hole wind energy represents is for net negative benefits.

Consider the source...the wind lobby, (comprised chiefly of the oil and gas industry), that has used their political clout to elevate their industry above the law, (MBTA, ESA, etc.), while they are enjoy special treatment, mandates, and public subsidies, to kill wildlife and create a public nuisance.

by: Manda Gingiro from: Japan
October 13, 2012 8:42 PM
Building wind firms on land is nonsense. One of the solution is to locate the wind firm offshore. Japan declare to build offshore floating wind firm off Fukushima Prefacture. We have good technologies of shipbuilding industries.

by: Chris from: Chesapeake Bay
October 12, 2012 4:17 PM
After seeing Ospreys make such a strong comeback here it would be a shame to have them chopped up. Maybe come waterfoul season here I can save money on shotgun shells and look for geese around wind turbines.

by: Jim Wiegand
October 11, 2012 4:30 PM
The Wyoming Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Projects being pushed through by the Democratic Obama/ Salazar regime will have a generating capacity of roughly 3000 MW or 6 times the capacity of Altamont. Wyoming happens to have some of the very best eagle habitat and highest concentrations of golden eagles left in the country.

It is a disaster in the making for the golden eagle but a sweetheart deal for supporters of the Obama administration, which may soon be out of office.

At the 580 MW Altamont Pass, studies have shown that wind turbines kill golden eagles at rate of 0.13 - 0.2 per MW per year. This equals 75-116 eagles being smashed out of the skies over Altamont each year.

What the public does not understand is that Altamont Pass is not unique because at every wind farm located in eagle habitat, there are the same deadly combination of circumstances, wind currents, prey species, soaring eagles, and huge blades ripping through the air hundreds of feet up. Golden eagles have to eat and they are smashed from the air at all wind farms located in eagle habitat because they are forced to hunt around these turbines. Because Eagles forage over hundreds and sometime thousands of miles, wind farms have a mortality footprint that far exceeds their boundaries.

These circumstances make wind energy projects a black hole or ecological sink for migrating and regional bird populations. This is especially true for the Golden Eagle. The proof of this impact lies in Southern Ca where the golden eagle population has declined an estimated 80-90 percent population over 20-25 percent of the state. The habitat is there but the eagles are not. This information has been covered up but is being presented in a lawsuit over a project in the heart of some of the best golden eagle habitat left in Southern Ca.

So how many eagles will die in collisions with the 200 mph blades at this Wyoming wind project? Probably 400-500 a year until their populations plummet. How many of these deaths will you hear about? Only a few because of the industry manipulated voluntary USFWS regulations that allow the wind industry to operate in complete secrecy.

by: Useless from: Vermont
October 11, 2012 9:34 AM
The USFWS may have the authority to prosecute the wind industry for violating the endangered species act, but they don't. Instead they do nothing but issue incidental take (kill) permits that allow this parasitic industry to continue killing bats & birds including eagles, condors, osprey, owls, and others.
Constant claims by the wind industry and echoed by articles in the media like this one, that "Wind power is key to efforts to produce clean, limitless energy and to slow global warming," are bogus.

After hundreds of thousands of wind turbines have been installed around the world over the past 25 years, there is no evidence anywhere that intermittent wind power is clean or doing anything to slow global warming. There's currently a glut of generation in most of the US. We don't need to be building and subsidizing expensive, environmentally destructive, intermittent wind turbines, which are more about generating subsidies than useful electricity.
The article failed to mention that turbine noise is destroying wildlife and human habitat and forcing many families to abandon homes they can't sell because of proximity to wind factories.

Wake up people, before you are faced with a wind project near you.
NIMBY- Next Impacts May Be Yours

by: James from: Broadwater, Neraska
October 10, 2012 11:29 PM
One solution would be to enclose the turbine within a cage (much like a fan); I suspect this would be vigorously opposed by the industry as cost-prohibitive.

Bats and birds eat the billions of insects that eat crops. Like bees that pollinate crops, bats and birds are needed for agriculture. To destroy them is to destroy our food (unless you like eating dead bats).

by: Mike Barnard from: North America mostly
October 10, 2012 10:45 PM
Well, according to the best studies, about 70,000 fewer birds would die from human causes annually if all fossil fuel generation could be replaced by wind energy. And of course everybody but rabid anti-wind lobbyists acknowledge that wind farm toll on birds and bats is a vanishingly small percentage compared to other human causes of death.

Siting considerations for species at risk is important, but considering wind farms to be a menace to birds and bats misses the larger picture entirely.

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