Birds and wind energy: Bad news leads, good news in weeds

The headline was a downer, and so were the first six or seven paragraphs. On the plus side, the story was accompanied by a very well-done graphic showing just how small wind turbines is in the overall picture of human-related avian mortality.

Studies show something like half the people who read the newspaper only see the headline on any given article, and there’s a further sharp drop in readership after the first paragraph. With that in mind, here are a few items from lower down in the story that deserve more emphasis:

– " … [F]ederal officials, other wildlife groups and a wind-farm industry representative said the conservancy’s views [that would be the American Bird Conservancy, which has staked out a very anti-wind position in recent months] are extreme. Wind farm plants currently kill far fewer birds than the estimated 100 million that fly into glass buildings, or up to 500 million killed yearly by cats. Power lines kill an estimated 10 million, and nearly 11 million are hit by automobiles, according to studies." I might add that except for cats, those are all low-end numbers–the range for buildings is 100 million to 1 billion annually. (For further information on wind power’s impact on birds, see pp. 7-16 of AWEA’s recent comments on draft U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service guidelines for wind power).

– Wind energy industry representatives spent 2-1/2 years working with representatives of wildlife groups and state and federal wildlife officials to come up with consensus recommendations on reducing the threat to birds still further. In the process, the wind farm industry voluntarily agreed to hold itself to a higher standard of wildlife protection than any other industry.

– NextEra Energy, which operates many wind turbines in California’s Altamont Pass, agreed last December with then-state attorney general Jerry Brown to "repower" its wind projects, replacing old, small, high-RPM machines with new, larger turbines spaced farther apart, a move expected to substantially lower bird fatalities. See this San Jose Mercury-News article, published yesterday, for more.

By Tom Gray,