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Fact check: FOX News article fails to put wind development in context

Fact check: FOX News article fails to put wind development in context

A recent article on the FOX News website painted a very one-sided picture of wind energy generation’s impact on bird populations. Quoting long-time anti-wind columnist Robert Bryce, the article recycled many inaccurate and previously refuted statements on the impact of wind power development on wildlife populations.

Also, contrary to the article’s assertions, the wind energy Production Tax Credit, extended yesterday by Congress in the “fiscal cliff” deal, has helped to power the growth of a brand new manufacturing sector in practically every state in the union. Today nearly 500 U.S. manufacturing plants located in all regions of the country provide tens of thousands of jobs.

Along the way, wind power has added billions of dollars of new investment into the nation’s economy, provided local communities with millions in new tax revenue, and allowed electric utilities to lock in costs, protecting consumers against volatile fossil-fuel prices. However, like any energy source, developing wind energy will have some impact on the natural environment.

When considering specific occurrences of bird kills, it is important to have an understanding of the broader context in which a variety of human activities effect wildlife populations.

Wind farms have a very limited effect on bird populations relative to other human activities. On the basis of an analysis late last year of publicly available studies conducted at over 100 wind farms, it is estimated that less than 150,000 birds are killed annually by wind power generation.  In contrast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other organizations estimate that 100 million to 1 billion birds die in collisions with buildings each year, 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, a group critical of the wind industry in the FOX News article, found that cats kill at least 500 million birds per year.  Additionally, in the Conservancy's own 2010 book, “The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation,” it was noted that 3.1 birds per MW of wind energy are taken at wind farms nationally, which at current operating capacity is roughly 160,000 birds annually (this figure is within the margin of error of the latest study cited above).

The eagle “take” permit is not a wholesale license to kill eagles, nor is it specifically designed for the wind industry. This permit was created under the 2009 Eagle Permit Rule of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and provides legal protection to an individual or company (whether in wind energy, oil & gas, the utility business, etc.) for the "take" of an eagle that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, otherwise legal activity–including energy production.

Regarding migratory birds, the Department of Justice has issued specific guidance for U.S. Attorneys on migratory bird prosecutions. Their memo suggests that when businesses engage with the USFWS, employ best practices, and work to remedy problems if they arise, prosecution is unlikely.

With this in mind, wind energy developers typically engage with USFWS staff early on in project development and throughout the siting, construction, and operations of a facility. Additionally, wind developers do more to study potential and actual effects on birds and bats–both before and after construction–than any other energy industry.  It is this proactive approach that has likely kept the focus of law enforcement action off the wind industry.

The truth is that wind energy will always be a vanishingly small factor in human-related bird fatalities. Even so, the wind industry continues to makes every effort to work proactively with the government and conservation groups to address the environmental impacts it does have.

In fact, last year, as a culmination of the wind industry’s ongoing efforts to reduce wildlife impacts, the USFWS released the final version of the Voluntary Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines (found here). These guidelines are the result of over five years of collaboration between representatives of the wind energy industry, the conservation community, USFWS, states, and tribes and hold the wind industry to a higher standard for wildlife protection than is legally required.

In short, no energy source, or human activity for that matter, is completely benign. Regardless of how we decide to power our society, some impact will result. However, different energy sources have different impacts and some have especially acute, negative impacts on the health of our children, the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and wildlife populations. Given that wind power requires no mining or drilling for fuel, uses virtually no water, and creates no air or water pollution, it is one of the most beneficial energy sources for wildlife (and humans!) available today.

Related articles:

Fact check: CFACT's Driessen wildly off base on bird claims, December 24, 2012
118 sportsmen's and conservation groups urge Congress to extend wind tax credits, December 6, 2012
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
Fact check: Bond bashes wind, mangles facts [UPDATED], June 19, 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
Bird fatalities at Laurel Mountain substation, November 9, 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
AWEA files comments on "unworkable" U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service guidelines, May 19, 2011
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, AWEA, wind developers sign agreement to promote endangered species conservation, April 20, 2011
Wind industry backs research on bat concerns including White-Nose Syndrome, April 1, 2011
Wind turbine bird threat modest, January 18, 2011
Editorial: How serious is threat to birds?, January 5, 2011
Wind energy and birds: No double standard, September 9, 2009
Wind-wildlife group names first president, February 24, 2009

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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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