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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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  • FriendlyGoat

    Conservationists and environmentalists are not necessarily the same people.

    • Jim__L

      Although the modern environmental movement owes a great deal to conservationists (and big game hunters) like Teddy Roosevelt.

      It’s a bit like how much Silicon Valley owes to DoD spending. Some may consider it a “dirty little secret”, and others may celebrate it. Depends on your point of view.

  • Andrew Allison

    There’s another way to look at this, namely why, given that wind farms are not economically viable, are they also being given a “take” of protected species?

  • Disappeared4x

    Never seen a hunting cat take down an eagle. Are the golden eagles being killed by wind turbines in Texas? Wind energy competes just fine with fossil fuels in Texas, claims the Climate Reality Project at Ecowatch.com, giving the next SecEnergy Rick Perry kudos for his support during his tenure as governor of Texas:

    July 6, 2016 The Climate Reality Project. “6 Reasons Why Texas Leads the Nation in Wind Power : Texas was the First U.S. State to Reach 10,000 Megawatts of Wind Power Generating Capacity”

    3. Not only has wind energy grown much faster in Texas than anywhere else in the U.S., it was also the first state to reach 10,000
    megawatts of installed generating capacity in 2011. The majority of this wind energy was generated in western Texas and while there was demand for this power across the state, wind energy growth was so rapid that the infrastructure to transmit it across the state was unable to keep pace. So to ensure wind energy reached the more populated eastern areas of Texas, the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) studied the areas with the most wind energy projects and potential and established a series of Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZs). PUCT then used these zones to plan a highly efficient series of more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines to reliably transfer renewable energy generated in western Texas to help power eastern markets. By December 2013, the project was largely completed, reducing the need to limit the amount of wind energy entering the grid. The bottom line: clean energy is now accessible to the entire state. …”
    http://www.ecowatch.com/6-reasons-why-texas-leads-the-nation-in-wind-power-1906696525.html

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/554ac4a3d36271a1e08e344c6c4f11ba2d7c46b1dfb82ed010c8eeb650d41931.jpg

  • CaliforniaStark

    “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.”

    Try using an argument like that to defend the use of fossil fuels. As with fossil fuels, the argument should be that wind turbine manufacturers should be required to redesign wind turbines so that they minimize bird deaths. The possibly exists, and new wind turbine designs exist, that do not result in wind turbine blades clobbering birds. A lot of the birds of prey that wind turbines are killing in high number are close to being designated as endangered, such as golden eagles. On what grounds is the wind turbine industry being given, in effect, an exemption from the Endangered Species Act? This is Obama hypocrisy at its worse — a politician protecting through crony capitalism and selective exemption an industry that only exists because of public subsidies.

  • Fat_Man

    I prefer to think of what you call wind turbines as Bird Chomping Eco Crucifixes.

  • Rick Johnson

    While every energy source has risk, renewable energy is pointless, so there are no benefits to justify these deaths.

  • mikCND

    There’s little risk with coal, as shown by the clean air of Beijing…

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