Renewable Energy Death Toll Impugns Green Claims

Published September 24, 2014

Renewable energy sources are killers, not so much green as red. Until recently, renewable energy sources—wind, solar, hydro, etc.—have gotten a pass on the environmental harms they cause. However, as the death toll mounts, the public has begun objecting to the deadly impacts of “green” energy sources.

Hydroelectric dams, once the darlings of the green jet set, have been killing migrating salmon for decades. Despite designers’ best efforts, they have yet to solve the problem, and now dams are being dismantled to save salmon and river ecosystems.

Two decades ago, some environmentalists began referring to wind farms as “cuisinarts of the air” because birds were being mangled by the huge, fast-spinning turbines.

The problem has only gotten worse as the number of wind farms has grown rapidly under the Obama administration’s push for subsidized green energy.

Wind turbines kill bats as well as birds. Most recently, a 7,600-acre wind farm in Nevada was found to have killed 566 bats, more than triple the number it is allowed to take each year. Conservationists believe many more bats die each year but their carcasses are not found.

Biologists have found even if a bird or bat avoids the spinning blades, the changes in barometric pressure caused by the spinning blades can cause their insides to explode.

Engineers have tried various ways to avoid or reduce bird and bat deaths, by reducing turbine speeds, shutting down turbines during certain periods, and spacing turbines differently, all to no avail. Birds, including eagles, falcons, and condors, continue to be killed, along with huge numbers of bats.

Wind farms must be located where the wind blows fairly constantly. Unfortunately, such locations are prime travel routes for migratory birds and bats, including protected species such as bald eagles, golden eagles and endangered Indiana bats. Wind farms act as both bait and executioner—rodents or insects near the base of turbines multiply with the protection from raptors and bats, and their greater numbers draw more birds and bats to the blades.

Industrial solar power plants also kill wildlife. Traditional photovoltaic facilities fundamentally alter the dozens of square miles the solar panels take up. In the Western United States, such farms are swallowing up large blocks of threatened desert tortoise habitat. Tortoises have died in and around these facilities. In some instances, tortoises have been relocated from their native habitat where solar panels are being placed to other, similar areas, but whether the tortoises can thrive or even survive in their new locations has yet to be established. New research indicates areas where solar farms and tortoises currently coexist may soon become too hot for tortoise survival as the solar farms become heat islands—areas much hotter than the temperature in adjoining rural locations.

Solar power towers, where hundreds of thousands of mirrors redirect concentrated sunlight toward boiler towers, heating the water inside to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and producing steam that turns turbines to generate electricity, are turning out to be the microwave ovens of the skies. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar tower project kills 28,000 birds annually. The bright light reflecting off the mirrors attracts huge amounts of insects, which in turn attract birds. Both are torched in mid-flight by Ivanpah’s intense heat.

Federal and state wildlife officials have confirmed birds flying over Ivanpah are catching fire in midair, with numerous reports of puffs of smoke suddenly appearing, followed by dead birds, called “streamers,” plummeting to the ground.

For decades, people have recognized and accepted the environmental drawbacks fossil fuels impose because coal, oil, and natural gas have been the engine driving the economic progress of the past two centuries. Renewable energy sources, by contrast, destroy wild, open lands and kill wildlife, while delivering little or no economic benefit. Instead of putting money into the economy, the subsidies they require to exist and operate drain federal, state, and ultimately, individuals’ pocketbooks.

Every energy source has negative environmental impacts, but traditional power sources at least deliver tangible benefits such as jobs, reliability, and tax revenues. Let’s stop subsidizing environmentally and economically costly green energy pipedreams. The birds, bats, and tortoises will thank us.

[First published in the Orange County Register.]