Fact check: CFACT's Driessen wildly off base on bird claims

Fact check: CFACT's Driessen wildly off base on bird claims

The Washington Times recently carried a wildly inaccurate column by Paul Driessen of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a fossil-fuel-funded group, on wind turbines and bird fatalities. Most importantly, Mr. Driessen's numbers for bird deaths were drastically inflated.

Wind farms are not a major source of bird mortality. A leading avian biological consulting firm, WEST Inc., recently reanalyzed the bird mortality rate at wind farms on behalf of the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) and presented the findings at the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative's bi-annual science meeting in November. Based on the results of comparable studies (which used similar methodologies, and calculated searcher efficiency and scavenger rates) at a total of 109 operating wind farms across the nation, the rate is estimated to be 2.4 birds per megawatt (MW). With some 51,000 MW of wind generation currently installed, that implies approximately 120,000 bird fatalities a year, far below the numbers cited by Mr. Driessen.  In contrast, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other organizations estimate that annual bird deaths from collisions with buildings range from 97 million to 976 million, 60 million or more may be killed by vehicles, and up to 2 million are killed in oil and wastewater pits. Further, a recent study by the American Bird Conservancy found that cats kill at least 500 million birds per year. The truth is that no matter how extensively it is developed, wind energy will always be a vanishingly small factor in human-caused bird fatalities.

Wind farms are not a major source of eagle mortality.  Aside from the earliest wind farms dating from the 1980s in California which were developed at a time when siting practices were in their infancy and the knowledge of eagle and turbine interaction was poorly understood, wind energy is responsible for less than 2 percent of all documented eagle fatalities nationally.

The U.S. wind energy industry has demonstrated a willingness to work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to address higher than anticipated eagle fatalities.  This includes the oldest facilities that have had historically the highest mortality rates, which are currently being “repowered” with new, larger turbines that have lower rpm and are spaced much farther apart.  Eagle experts who have worked closest to the issue for decades predict that fatalities will drop by as much as 80% when repowering is completed.  The wind energy industry is also working actively to avoid and reduce impacts at newly sited facilities.

The golden eagle population, both in California and nationally, is not well defined. As a result, while some data indicates that populations, in some areas, are unusually low, this is inconclusive.  Further, no one knows what the cause of this decline is, but most scientists agree that the cause is most likely persistent drought conditions throughout the southwest that affect the availability of both drinking water and prey that can support a robust eagle population.  

For more information on wind energy and wildlife, see http://www.awea.org/learnabout/publications/upload/Wind-Energy-and-Wildlife_May-2011.pdf

There has never been a whooping crane killed at a wind farm. However, climate change is having an ongoing and real impact on whooping cranes today, with 23 of the majestic birds dying during their migration in 2008, apparently from malnutrition caused by lack of food attributed to drought conditions and improper water management within the Aransas watershed, which encompasses their wintering grounds along the TX coast. Further changing climate conditions and rising sea levels are allowing invasive species such as black mangrove to encroach into Aransas, threatening to render the grounds unusable for whooping cranes. The latest annual U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report on the species has not been released because former whooping crane coordinator Tom Stehn recently retired and the Service has just refilled the position, so there was no one to review the date and compile the report. Further Tom Stehn has never stated that wind energy facilities have taken a whooping crane, and has long supported the efforts of the wind industry to develop a comprehensive, programmatic regional Habitat Conservation Plan to address the conservation needs of the species while providing the legal coverage afforded under the Endangered Species Act.

No energy source—in fact, no human activity—has zero impact on the environment. As a clean energy source, however, wind energy is one of the most compatible with wildlife. Further, the wind industry does more to study, seek ways to reduce and mitigate its impacts, and cooperate with the Service to address its concerns than any other industry. The wind industry has a long history of proactively collaborating with the environmental community to address impacts and protect wildlife, and has worked with the Service and major wildlife groups such as the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Sierra Club to develop national guidelines for wind farms aimed at reducing their impact on birds. In a press statement issued after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final version of their Wind Energy Guidelines, which the industry participated in developing over a four-year period, David Yarnold, President and CEO of Audubon, commented, “We know America needs more renewable energy and wind power is a key player in that mix. But conservationists can’t have it both ways: we can’t say we need renewable energy and then say there’s nowhere safe to put the wind farms… By collaborating with conservationists instead of slugging it out, the wind power industry gains vital support to expand and create jobs, and wildlife gets the protection crucial for survival. These federal guidelines are a game-changer and big win for both wildlife and clean energy.”

Regarding bats, the wind industry is actively engaged in groundbreaking research to reduce bat collisions at wind farms. It has taken a systematic approach to identifying potential impacts on birds, bats, and other wildlife, and is engaged in initiatives aimed at reducing even the limited impacts it has today.

The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) was formed in 2003 by Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Wind Energy Association, and the U.S. Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. BWEC researches the issue of bat interactions at wind energy facilities and is actively investigating several promising techniques that can be used to reduce them, such as acoustic deterrents and potential operational changes. Further, shortly after the emergence of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) as a significant threat to bat populations throughout the eastern states, and potentially North America, the wind industry proactively provided early leadership in funding WNS research to identify causes and possible treatments for the disease, as well as ways to prevent its further spreading to healthy bat populations.

Because wind power displaces other, more polluting forms of energy, its net health and environmental impacts are strongly positive. The combined benefits of wind energy (no air or water pollution or water usage associated with energy production, zero CO2 emissions, etc.) all serve to make wind power far more beneficial to wildlife (and humans!) than other more traditional forms of energy production.


Related articles:

Wind-wildlife meeting highlights wind industry's proactive approach, December 3, 2012

Fact check: Voice of America article on wind and birds lacks context, November 2, 2012

Sage-grouse collaborative to fund two wind-related studies, August 13, 2012

Fact check: Wired story bypasses wind industry's efforts on bats, July 10, 2012

Opinion: Wind energy threat to eagles relatively low, June 26, 2012

American Wind Wildlife Institute releases white paper on eagles and wind power, May 25, 2012

Already following federal bird guidelines, wind co. says, March 29, 2012

Fact check: Bryce missteps on wind and birds, March 8, 2012

Colorado collaboration: Wind companies, conservation groups agree on wildlife best practices, February 6, 2012

The Fish & Wildlife Eagle Permit Rule: Our perspective, January 10, 2012

Wind power's impact on birds: modest, December 15, 2011

Birds and wind: Bad news leads, good news in weeds, August 29, 2011

Fact check: Fox News off base on bird collisions, August 19, 2011

News story draws questionable conclusions from eagle collisions with old turbines, June 6, 2011

WINDPOWER report: Whooping cranes may avoid wind farms, more research ahead, May 25, 2011

Wind developer launches intensive avian monitoring program, May 23, 2011

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, AWEA, wind developers sign agreement to promote endangered species conservation, April 20, 2011


John M. Anderson is Senior Director of Siting Policy for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). In this capacity Anderson is an industry leader in the area of siting policy and advocacy, and guides the industry in addressing siting issues as they relate to wildlife, sound/health impacts, property values, visual and cultural resources, aviation, and radar. He has long been involved in some of the key siting challenges facing the industry, including issues related to threatened and endangered avian and bat species. Prior to joining AWEA, Anderson was Eastern Regional Manager of Environmental Affairs for BP Wind Energy where he was the senior environmental permitting and policy advisor responsible for the development of new wind energy projects in the eastern half of the U.S. as well as management of post-construction environmental issues at BP Wind’s operating facilities across the U.S. Anderson has a B.S. in Environmental Science and Management and a minor in Environmental Law from the University of Rhode Island and has over 20 years of professional experience in the areas of environmental analysis, planning, permitting, and regulation.

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