The Trouble With Turbines
US Wind Farms Can Kill Eagles for Longer, Now

The U.S. government will extend the length of so-called “bird take” permits for wind power producers from five years to 30, according to officials. The rule change will go into effect on January 15th, and will sextuple the length of the permit that excuses the accidental deaths of endangered birds at the hands (or should we say turbines) of wind farms. Predictably, conservationists are displeased. Reuters reports:

The number of eagles killed each year at wind facilities is not precisely known, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. An estimated 545 golden eagles are thought to perish annually from collisions with obstacles ranging from turbines to vehicles, the agency said.

The American Wind Energy Association said it hoped the new rule would provide “a workable permitting framework that gives the private sector necessary clarity” while maintaining healthy eagle populations.

Conservationists have said the longer permits threaten decades of protection that have saved the bald eagle from extinction…The National Audubon Society was also disappointed. “As an organization we think a 30-year term is unreasonable, especially when we’re still learning about the impacts of wind and other technology on wildlife,” said Sarah Greenberger, vice president for conservation.

It’s common knowledge at this point that wind farms kill birds. It’s also not a surprise that a certain part of the green coalition is going to be upset by this fact. That said, this seems like a step towards smarter regulation. Requiring wind power facilities to reapply for permission to kill birds every five years is a heavy regulatory burden. Extending the length of these permits doesn’t let wind farms off the hook—they still have to show that they’re sited intelligently—but it will help wind energy try to compete with fossil fuels, a task that’s already hard enough as is.

We should put these bird deaths in perspective, too. Some of the highest estimates for wind turbine-related bird deaths are around 600,000 birds per year, which admittedly sounds high, but consider that cats and glass buildings each kill far more birds annually.

Every energy source entails environmental risks, not just fossil fuels. It may be wryly amusing to watch green civil wars break out when environmentalists are forced to acknowledge that even their beloved renewables aren’t perfect, but the bigger and more important takeaway from all of this should be the following: we can’t eliminate these risks, and aiming to do so is a foolish goal. Instead, we should work to minimize the risks of every energy source—whether coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, or solar—and site these facilities after careful consideration of the consequences.

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