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A Mixed Blessing

We need wind turbines. Along with solar, geothermal, tidal, wave, and hydroelectric power sources, wind farms offer a non-polluting, renewable alternative to the burning of fossil fuels. Renewable sources will allow us to safely and inexpensively produce the energy we need to heat and cool our homes; generate electricity for homes and industry; fuel our cars, buses, and rail systems; and significantly reduce (and eventually eliminate) our dependence on and need for coal and oil extraction.

But we need to find a way to take advantage of wind power without killing millions of birds and bats in the process—which is what is currently happening—and without sacrificing the progress that has been made rescuing the Bald Eagle, the national symbol of the United States, from near extinction.

Next year, we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the removal of the American Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List. But right now, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the White House, seek to encourage the growth of the wind power industry by enacting a new “federal rule that allows wind-energy companies to operate high-speed turbines for up to 30 years, even if [that] means killing or injuring thousands of federally protected bald and golden eagles” in the process, according to an article on Fox News.

The word “thousands” needs some clarification, however. The new rule would allow wind-power companies to kill or maim (the document uses the euphemism “take” to make the carnage more palatable) as many as 4,200 Bald Eagles a year without incurring penalties.
Over the course of the 30-year operational permit period, that means that wind-power companies could legally electrocute, batter, and slice in half as many as 126,000 Bald Eagles (out of a current population of approximately 143,000).

The American Wind Energy Association wants us to know that “Eagle fatalities only occur at a very small number of facilities across the country. In fact, collision with turbines at modern wind farms is responsible for less than 2 percent of all reported human-caused golden eagle fatalities, and only a handful of bald eagle fatalities ever, with vastly greater amounts attributed to power lines, vehicle strikes, lead poisoning, drowning in stock tanks, illegal shootings, etc.”

But if modern wind turbines are so safe to operate and pose such a minor risk to the American Bald Eagle, why does the industry need permits to allow them to kill as many as 126,000 Bald Eagles over the term of their permits?

European wind-power generators make similar claims about the safety of their operations to birds, and yet after reviewing “actual carcass counts from 136 monitoring studies,” the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/Birdlife) “concluded that Spain’s 18,000 wind turbines are killing 6-18 million birds and bats yearly.” And in California, “Altamont Winds, Inc. (AWI), one of the largest operators in the East Bay’s Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area,” according to an article in Quest, last year shut down its fields so that it could replace old turbines with new ones, so as to make their operations safer for birds.

Once again, we NEED wind farms if we are to undo the damage that coal and other fossil fuels have done to this planet’s ecosystems. We need to move to renewable energy sources if we are to avoid ever-increasing worldwide temperatures, the permanent elimination of ice in the Arctic, further acidification of our oceans, the total destruction of coral reefs, and the inundation of islands and coastal regions worldwide as a result of rising sea levels.

But we also need to find a way to protect the species with which we presently share this planet. And there remain many unanswered questions regarding this proposed new rule.

Will the wind power industry avoid building wind farms along well known bird migration routes? According to the American Bird Conservancy, “the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for instance, already uses a database to make sure wind farms aren’t built in places where they would interfere with aircraft. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is well-equipped to do for birds and other wildlife what the FAA does for planes.”

Will wind farms be required to use radar (or other similar technologies) to turn off turbines when it detects birds in a collision zone of one or more turbines?

Has the company operating the wind farm considered other turbine designs—such as those by IceWind—that are reported to have “no effect on bird life”?

Who is going to monitor the Eagle mortality count? As we’ve learned from the tobacco, chemical, coal, oil, and numerous other industries, society cannot trust companies and industries to monitor themselves.

How many additional wind farms across the United States will also be covered by these regulations? Dozens? Hundreds? Will each and every one of them be permitted to kill 4,200 Bald Eagles a year? How could this possibly be sustainable if every state has multiple wind farms ALL of which have permits to kill that many Bald Eagles every year? And what about the many other species of birds and bats throughout the country?

Are there provisions in the “new rules” that will force the operation to cease immediately—i.e., sooner than the 5-year review period—if the mortality count is higher than permitted and the extant population of Bald Eagles or Golden Eagles begins to decline?

What steps will the industry take to mitigate the losses to Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle populations? Will they fund nesting programs? Will they, as a condition of the permit, be asked to partner with the Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, and/or other environmental organizations to set aside additional, suitable habitat as reserves for raptor and other bird species?

Sources:
New Administration Rule Would Permit Thousands of Eagle Deaths at Wind Farms
Massive Wind Farm Project May Be Allowed To Kill Eagles Without Breaking Law
Bald Eagles Under Treat from Wind Turbines as New Wind Energy Proposal Allows for a Higher Kill Limit of the Birds
New Wind Energy Permits Would Raise Kill Limit of Bald Eagles But Still Boost Conservation, Officials Say
Bald Eagles & Wind Turbines Prompt U.S. Wildlife Managers To Grant 30-Year Permits
U.S. Proposes Giving Wind Farms 30-Year Permits to Kill Eagles
White House Gives Wind Farms 30-year Pass on Eagle Deaths
Eagles & Wind Energy
Eagles Fly Safely Near Wind Turbines Thanks to Radar
Wind Energy vs. Golden Eagles
A Struggle to Balance Wind Energy With Wildlife
Save the Eagles International
U.S. to allow killing of eagles by companies to aid wind power
Wind Energy

Wind-farm Related American Bird Conservancy Articles:
To Save Birds, Change Rules On Wind Turbines
Bird Conservation Group Calls For Changes In Collection Of Data At Wind Developments
Conservation Groups Call For National Planning Effort By Feds On Wind Energy
Study Shows Newer Wind Turbines Still Killing Hundreds Of Thousands Of Birds
First Prosecution Of Wind Company For Killing Birds
Feds’ Decision To Allow Wind Farm To Kill California Condor Threatens Recovery Effort, Says Leading Bird Group

Fish and Wildlife Service Documents:
Bald & Golden Eagle Information: Eagle Management
PDF of the Revised Regulations Regarding Eagle “Takes”
A PDF of the Eagle Rule FAQ