Anti-wind advocate Robert Bryce penned a recent column on wind and birds for the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. As with his previous writings on wind, Mr. Bryce again ignores a balanced analysis in favor of misinformation.
No source of energy production is without potential risk to wildlife. However, the wind energy industry’s impacts are comparatively minor, and it does more to study, avoid, and mitigate for them than any other energy industry. We work directly with federal and state regulatory officials the conservation community, and other stakeholders in this regard.
A recent analysis of studies conducted at over 100 wind farms estimated that wind power generation results in the loss of less than 200,000 birds annually. Mr. Bryce’s claim, based on the estimate of a single U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologist, is that the impacts related to wind energy are nearly three times as high. However, this metric is not based on data, and has been publicly noted by senior officials within the USFWS as not being an official agency estimate.
Further, aside from the earliest wind farms developed in California during the 1980s, when siting practices were in their infancy, wind energy is responsible for less than 2% of all documented eagle fatalities nationally. In fact, fatalities caused by electrocutions, vehicle strikes, poisoning from lead and other substances, illegal shootings, and even drowning in livestock watering tanks all exceed wind energy’s impact on eagles.
Contrary to Mr. Bryce’s assertion, the eagle “take” permit is not a wholesale license to kill eagles, nor is it specifically designed for the wind industry. Authorized by the 2009 Eagle Permit Rule under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, it provides legal protection to an individual or company (i.e., oil & gas, utilities, military bases and airports, wind energy, etc.) for the “take” of an eagle that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, otherwise legal activity–including energy production.
This protection is available under carefully controlled conditions. Any proposed wind farm must holistically evaluate the risk to eagles and take steps to reduce the potential for fatalities. If the threat of eagle mortality continues, the developer or operator must compensate for fatalities to ensure that eagles’ overall numbers are stable or increasing. This high standard puts significant pressure on wind farm owners and operators to reduce their impacts to the greatest extent practicable.
Moreover, in March 2012, the USFWS released the final version of the Voluntary Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines. These guidelines are the result of over five years of collaboration between representatives of the wind energy industry, the conservation community, USFWS, state wildlife officials, and tribes. The guidelines hold the wind industry to a higher standard for wildlife protection than is legally required and include specific recommendations related to pre-construction studies, post-construction monitoring, and mitigation, to ensure that each new project has the best information available to mitigate risks to wildlife.
In conclusion, no method of energy generation is completely benign. However, given that generating electricity with wind power requires no mining or drilling for fuel, creates no air or water pollution, generates no hazardous waste, and utilizes no water in the generation of electricity its net health and environmental benefits–for both wildlife and humans–are clear.
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