New study tallies eagle deaths at U.S. wind plants

A new study in the Journal of Raptor Research attempts to tally bald eagle and golden eagle deaths at wind energy facilities nationwide, as the AP reports:

Wind energy facilities have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years, but the figure could be much higher, according to a new scientific study by government biologists.

The research represents one of the first tallies of eagle deaths attributed to the nation's growing wind energy industry, which has been a pillar of President Barack Obama's plans to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming. Wind power releases no air pollution.

But at a minimum, the scientists wrote, wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997, with most deaths occurring between 2008 and 2012, as the industry was greatly expanding. Most deaths — 79 — were golden eagles that struck wind turbines. One of the eagles counted in the study was electrocuted by a power line.

The vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, Mike Parr, said the tally was "an alarming and concerning finding."

A trade group, the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement that the figure was much lower than other causes of eagle deaths. The group said it was working with the government and conservation groups to find ways to reduce eagle casualties.

Still, the scientists said their figure is likely to be "substantially" underestimated, since companies report eagle deaths voluntarily and only a fraction of those included in their total were discovered during searches for dead birds by wind-energy companies. The study also excluded the deadliest place in the country for eagles, a cluster of wind farms in a northern California area known as Altamont Pass. Wind farms built there decades ago kill more than 60 per year.

The research affirms an AP investigation in May, which revealed dozens of eagle deaths from wind energy facilities and described how the Obama administration was failing to fine or prosecute wind energy companies, even though each death is a violation of federal law.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which employs the six researchers, has said it is investigating 18 bird-death cases involving wind-power facilities, and seven have been referred to the Justice Department. The authors noted the study's findings do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency, although some of their data was obtained from staff.

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

Wind farms in two states, California and Wyoming, were responsible for 58 deaths, followed by facilities in Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Texas, Maryland and Iowa.

In all, 32 facilities were implicated. One in Wyoming was responsible for a dozen golden eagle deaths, the most at a single facility.

The research was published in the Journal of Raptor Research.

See also Chris Clarke's summary of the findings at his ReWire column for the California-based KCET.org: "California Leads Nation in Wind Turbine Eagle Deaths."

3 thoughts on “New study tallies eagle deaths at U.S. wind plants

  1. Which is lesser evil, massive deployment of wind power infrastructure at expense of various higher-on-the-food-chain species such as bats & birds, or collapse of the base of the food chain as we keep putting CO2 in the air, through desertification and ocean acidfication? They say we need as much as we can get of each separate alternative to fossil fuels, and together these “climate wedges” can solve the problem. See for example, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/09/30/333435/socolow-wedges-clean-energy-deployment/

    Sadly, any massive infrastructure undertaking to replace fossil fuels will have an environmental cost…. scenery, species, noise, population dynamics, and the list of impacts goes on…. but when faced with such a threat to the base-of-the-food-chain, what other choice is there?

    Reply
    1. naturegirl2

      Steve, there are many other choices which do not have the environmental costs of industrial wind infrastructure: rooftop solar, energy efficiency, greater gas economy, negawatts (reducing our use of electricity) and small-scale nuclear.

      Furthermore, it is erroneous to think that industrial wind will replace baseload fossil fuel power plants. Yes, industrial wind can replace some fossil fuel use, but the National Academy of Science research shows that we will not have a stable grid if we rely solely on renewables. I have been studying industrial wind development intensely for the last 7 years and can find no evidence that it is capable of replacing all of our fossil fuels. The only reliable, baseload CO2-free source is nuclear. This is not the large-scale nuclear as we know it, but small, underground units that can power a city very safely for decades, using spent fuel-rods. Several companies are testing designs now and the process looks very promising.

      The other point is that there needs to be a new paradigm for industrial wind. The current turbine with 3-blades needs to be replaced with a more efficient design that is does not have 3 blades mounted on a huge tower. Lots of research is being done on alternative designs that can operate on lower wind speeds, so they turbines can be positioned in a city or urban area, not on our mountains.

      There are some REAL choices to be made. Don’t just accept the status quo. Like you point out, there are too many negatives associated with the current wind technology. A climate wedge must include small-scale nuclear, instead of more industrial wind turbines in their present technology.
      Read Ozzie Zehner’s book, “Green Illusions” for a better understanding of our current consumption crisis.

      Reply

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