Bird Backers Rip Feds On Wind Power Rules

The one aspect of wind energy that keeps it from being an environmentalist’s dream-come-true is back in the news. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a nonprofit that works to maintain healthy bird habitats, is emphatically criticizing the federal government’s latest wind power guidelines, saying they don’t do enough to prevent the death of birds or prosecute those responsible for the deaths. The group also chided the government for not allowing the public enough time to weigh in on revised guidelines.

The latest version of the wind energy industry guidelines were issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) on Sept. 13, with the comment period open until Sept. 23. ABC says the guidelines were developed by a federal advisory committee, then revised by U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists to improve the protections included for birds. A second set of proposed guidelines was then issued by DOI on July 12 this year, but rather than strengthening the initial draft, it removed many key bird protection elements, ABC claims.

image via DOE

ABC says that because the guidelines are voluntary, industry compliance is unlikely. It also criticizes what it sees as assurances that wind companies won’t be prosecuted for illegally killing federally protected birds such as bald and golden eagles. The group claims one wind power plant in California is already estimated to have killed over 2,000 eagles. It did not name the site, but last year we reported on a deal between NextEra Energy Resources and the state of California in which the company would replace older turbines its Altamont Pass complex with newer ones less likely to kill birds. In that case, that state cited a 2004 study that “found that the 5,400 older turbines operating at Altamont Pass killed an estimated 1,766 to 4,271 birds annually, including between 881 and 1330 raptors such as golden eagles –  which are protected under federal law – hawks, falcons and owls.”

According to ABC, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that in 2009, the wind industry was killing about 440,000 birds per year. With the federal government targeting a 12-fold increase in wind generated electricity by the year 2030, annual bird mortality is expected to increase into the millions without any changes taking place, the group said. Species of particular concern for the conservancy included the golden eagle, greater sage-grouse and the endangered whooping crane.

Earlier this year, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) responded to claims of massive bird deaths from wind-power plants, saying that “wind power is far less harmful to birds than the fossil fuels it displaces” and that “incidental losses of individual birds at turbine sites will always be an extremely small fraction of bird deaths caused by human activiites.”

Kristy Hessman is a writer and native Oregonian who currently resides in California. Before starting her own company, she worked as a reporter covering business and politics for daily newspapers and The Associated Press.

    • Tomgraywind

      Thanks for including AWEA’s response in this article.u00a0 Some additional information:nn- Throughout the process of developing recommended wind turbine siting guidelines for the Secretary of Interior, industry representatives, including AWEA, worked closely with state wildlife officials and several eNGOs who were members of the Federal Advisory Committee created by the Secretary, including Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, Bat Conservation International, and the Nature Conservancy, to write consensus recommendations.nn- Additional eNGOs like the Sierra Club and UCS joined AWEA, other industry members, and several of the aforementioned eNGOs in submitting joint comments in response to the Serviceu2019s draft guidelines urging that the draft be revised to more closely follow the consensus recommendations of the Advisory Committee.nn- A useful reference on AWEA’s comment that “wind power is far less harmful to birds than the fossil fuels it displaces” is a study conducted by Pandion Systems, Inc. (now Normandeau Associates), a leading environmental science research firm that works with both public and private sector clients.u00a0 Pandion prepared a “cradle-to-grave” analysisu00a0 of major energy types and their impacts on wildlife for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The report covers coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, wind and hydropower, and all phases of electricity production, including extraction, transportation, construction, generation, transmission and distribution, and decommissioning. Wind power was found to have the lowest impact of any of the technologies studied.u00a0 An executive summary of the NYSERDA study is available at http://www.nyserda.org/publications/executive%20summary%20report.pdf .u00a0 Readers may also wish to consult our filing on the Fish and Wildlife Service draft guidelines at http://www.awea.org/issues/siting/upload/AWEA-Comments-on-USFWS-Wind-Energy-Guidelines_May-19-2011.pdf .u00a0 Pages 7-16 deal specifically with ABC’s contentions.u00a0 Some key paragraphs:nn”A … recent USFWS study estimates annual bird mortality attributable to wind turbines at 440,000 based on 22,000 operating turbines.u00a0 However, that estimate implies a mortality rate of 12.6 birds per megawatt (total installed capacity at the end of 2009 was 35,064 MW).u00a0 Given that this estimate was published early in 2009, the estimate may have relied on the 2008 data of 25,058 MWs, implying an even higher per MW impact of 16 birds.u00a0 Either of these ‘guesstimates’ is significantly higher than what actual fatality studies document as described below.nn”A more reasonable estimate comes from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).u00a0 The NAS estimated in 2007 that wind energy is responsible for less than 0.003% of (3 of every 100,000) bird deaths caused by human (and feline) activities.nn”The same report found bird mortality at individual wind projects ranges from less than 1 bird per MW per year to about 12 birds per MW per year, with the majority of sites studied at less than 3 birds per MW per year.u00a0 This large range points to the differences among projects at a site-specific level.u00a0 Given such differences, it can be difficult to credibly extrapolate these figures to a national mortality rate.nn”Data compiled from surveys at nearly 40 different wind projects by WEST, Inc., for the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative fact sheet u201cWind Turbine Interactions with Birds, Bats and their Habitatsu201d reached a similar conclusion to the NAS.u00a0 According to this fact sheet: ‘All developments studied have reported fewer than 14 bird (all species combined) fatalities per nameplate MW per year, and most have reported less than 4 fatalities per MW per year.u00a0 Although several developments have reported relatively numerous bat fatalities, most studies have reported low rates of bat fatalities.’” — Regards, Tom Gray, Wind Energy Communications Consultantn