Repeatedly, the wind industry says turbines do no harm to birds, or to such a small number it doesn’t matter.
This is a lie.
The truth is that turbines are tenacious killers of birds. Everywhere turbines operate, the avian kill-rate is high.
The industry works hard to deny liability. Billions of dollars of profit are at stake. And the industry relies heavily on lobbying and community support from green groups.
So in this post, we would like to walk you through some of the issues of bird kills and wind turbines.
First up, wind turbines are now the biggest rotating machines in the world. Blades operate in a diameter of 120 metres and although the tips look to be traveling slowly, they are actually moving through the air very fast.
At an average wind speed of 13 -15 mph (20 kmh – 24 kmh), the tips are traveling at 120 mph (193 kmh). At maximum wind speeds, the blade tips are moving at 180 mph (290 kms).
So how easy is it for a bird to navigate a wind turbine?
Have a look at this brief YouTube clip. The bird strike happens about two minutes in.
This is what the Australian pro-wind energy group the Clean Energy Council says about wind farms and birds.
There have been some alarming claims about wind farms contributing to large numbers of bird deaths. Most of these can be traced to a single wind farm built in the United States around 30 years ago that was poorly sited in the flight path of migratory birds.
In Australia, planning conditions require extensive research on local bird life before and after construction, and as a result, bird deaths are rare.
In Victoria, a study of the population of the brolga in south-west Victoria found declining numbers were the result of loss and degradation of habitat and predation of foxes, not wind farms in the regions.
Compared to bird deaths from collisions with buildings, electricity lines, cars, pesticides, communication towers and cats, the effect of wind farms on birdlife is small.
We need to comment on this.
Brolgas across western Victoria have dwindled to about 500 birds.
And the CEC is right. There was a study of the brolga population in that state. But guess who funded and controlled the study?
The CEC. That’s right.
A study of one of the major species endangered by wind farms was co-opted by the wind farm-financed and supported Clean Energy Council. Even media inquiries about the study were handled by the media spokesman for the CEC.
In our opinion, the wind farm industry saw brolgas as a potential problem for the proposed rapid expansion of wind farms across western Victoria and so took the first-mover advantage.
The CEC also says planning conditions require extensive study of local bird life before wind farms are approved.
Those extensive studies are undertaken by consultants employed by wind farm companies. We have recently come across examples of one consultant writing two conflicting environmental reports about one particular region.
One report, for a wind farm company, played down the environmental impacts of the proposed development. A second, about land for an immediately adjoining proposed quarry site and undertaken on behalf of local residents, gave an entirely different environmental picture.
Our investigations suggest the use of environmental consultants by wind farms is an area riddled with corruption – and policed by no government body. (We’ve already written about this.)
We’ve heard stories of brolga nests being moved or tampered with, of studies being deliberately undertaken at a time when it’s known the birds are less in numbers, and of “surveys” being conducted that are little more than roadside stops with a quick look from a car window.
And people lie. Bare-faced and without hesitation. They present their “expert” reports to planning appeals then send their bulging invoices to the wind farm developer. Job done.
We know this matter has been drawn to the attention of the Victorian government Environment Minister Ryan Smith, the Ombudsman and the Fraud Squad.
We plan to look at this issue further.
Take a minute or two to have a look at the US example of a wind farm and bird kills.
Writing in The Spectator in the UK, Clive Hambler, a lecturer in biological and human sciences at Oxford university, says wind farms devastate bird populations.
Mr Hambler, who trained as a zoologist, says wind farms are responsible for the deaths of millions of birds, including threatened species, every year.
Every year in Spain alone — according to research by the conservation group SEO/Birdlife — between 6 and 18 million birds and bats are killed by wind farms.
They kill roughly twice as many bats as birds. This breaks down as approximately 110–330 birds per turbine per year and 200–670 bats per year.
And these figures may be conservative if you compare them to statistics published in December 2002 by the California Energy Commission: ‘In a summary of avian impacts at wind turbines by Benner et al (1993) bird deaths per turbine per year were as high as 309 in Germany and 895 in Sweden.’
Because wind farms tend to be built on uplands, where there are good thermals, they kill a disproportionate number of raptors.
In Australia, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is threatened with global extinction by wind farms. In north America, wind farms are killing tens of thousands of raptors including golden eagles and America’s national bird, the bald eagle.
Australia currently has about 1,000 turbines. Using Mr Hambler’s figures, annual bird kills by wind farms in this country would range from 110,000 to 330,000.
The government’s Renewable Energy Target would see 10 times the number of turbines in operation by 2020.
Do the math. Be conservative and halve Mr Hambler’s estimate, or even divide it by four.
Regardless, wind farms are responsible for a veritable massacre of large numbers of birds.
This is what the Sydney Morning Herald said in 2010.
The number of eagles killed by turbine blades at one of Australia’s largest wind farms is climbing, with a rare juvenile wedge-tailed eagle the 22nd to die at Woolnorth in Tasmania’s north-west.
The farm is killing two protected species at the rate of about 3.2 eagles a year, according to a count by the operator, Roaring 40s.
Most of the birds were wedge-tailed, but three white bellied sea eagles have also been killed by the blades, Roaring 40s avian ecologist Cindy Hull said in Hobart.
And these are figures supplied by a wind farm. Over the last three years we’ve constantly heard stories of wind farm operators actually employing people to collect bird carcasses and secretly dispose of them.
Wind farm proponents, like the Clean Energy Council, say more birds are killed by cars but that’s just wind industry weasel words again.
It’s not simply a numbers game. More chickens are killed at chicken farms but it’s the type of birds killed by wind farms – larger birds, more rare birds, more endangered birds, more birds of diminishing numbers.
And now, we’ve learned wind farm companies regularly make large donations to bird societies to shut them up. (Check out the link. It’s a google translation from a German newspaper but you’ll get the drift.)
Are we surprised by any of this? Not really. History is full of vicious corporate bastards who will do whatever it takes to make a dollar.
Are we surprised the green people and environmentalists choose to ignore this? Not really. There may be a range of reasons for their myopia. Closed minds, extremism, money. These days, it’s hard to get a handle on a movement that started out with such clarity and integrity but is now fueled by vested interests with other agendas.
As journalist Robert Bryce wrote:
For years, the wind energy industry has had a license to kill golden eagles and lots of other migratory birds. And yet, despite the toll that wind turbines are taking on wildlife, the wind industry wants to keep its get-out-of-jail-free card.
It’s just another example of big money being used to tell big lies in support of big wind industry profits.
*Photo credit. Black Springs farmer Kym Dixon next to a dead wedge-tailed eagle, which was found 180m from wind turbines in the South Australian town of Waterloo. Picture: Vanessa Hunter Source: The Australian
Breaking News: Environmental groups are reacting with shock and outrage to a U.S. Department of Interior rule change that would allow private wind energy corporations to apply for unprecedented 30-year permits to kill our nation’s national symbol, the Bald Eagle, as well as Golden Eagles. See story here.