The Institute of Energy Research reports on a study in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, showing every year 573,000 birds (including 83,000 raptors) and 888,000 bats are killed by wind turbines – 30 percent higher than the federal government estimated in 2009, due mainly to increasing wind power capacity across the nation.
This is figure is likely an underestimate because it is based on the data from 2012, while the number of wind and solar facilities has grown since then.
Fossil Fuels, Renewables, Disparate Treatment
- In 2010, Mother Jones estimated about 800,000 birds died because of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill. As a result, they paid $100 million in fines for killing and harming migratory birds.
- In 2009, Exxon Mobil paid $600,000 for killing 85 birds in five states.
- PacifiCorp, which operates coal plants, paid more than $10.5 million for electrocuting 232 eagles that landed on power lines at its substations.
The first penalties were not imposed on wind farms until November 2013 when Duke Energy paid a $1 million fine for killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at two wind farms in Wyoming from 2009 to 2013.
Yet wind and solar farms have been killing birds in far higher numbers than fossil fuel facilities for decades with few consequences. Indeed, the nation’s wind turbines killed more than three times as many birds than BP oil spill over the past 5 years.
Altamont Pass and Ivanpah
California’s large wind farm in Altamont Pass wind farm began operation in 1981. Environmental groups have complained almost since its opening of the birds it has killed. Research shows it kills more than 1,000 protected raptors and nearly 5,000 other birds each year. In 2010, in order to settle a lawsuit brought by the Audubon Society among other groups, Altamont agreed to modify its operations to reduce bird kills. Despite modifying its operations, bird kills have not appreciably declined.
Yet, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors overrode a vote of the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments to deny Altamont Winds, Inc., the right to continue running the 828 older wind turbines for the next few years. In granting the operating extension until 2018, the Alameda County Board also went against its own staff recommendation, the wishes of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Attorney General’s office and Audubon California.
The Ivanpah solar power plant, a 377 megawatt solar facility located in the Mojave Desert in California, is estimated to have killed 83 different species of birds. The Center for Biological Diversity has estimated the Ivanpah solar facility kills up to 28,000 birds annually. Federal and state wildlife officials have confirmed birds flying over Ivanpah are being lethally singed, with numerous reports of puffs of smoke suddenly appearing, followed by dead birds, called “streamers,” falling to the earth.
To date, no solar facilities have been fined or their operations curtailed.
Despite these problems, against the wishes of environmental groups and over the objections of a number of Native American tribes, the December 9, 2013, the Obama Administration finalized a regulation allowing wind energy companies to obtain 30-year permits to kill eagles without prosecution by the federal government.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s Environment & Climate News.