Windmills Are Killing Our Birds

Golden Eagle Killed by Wind Turbine

Golden Eagle Killed by Wind Turbine

Wall Street Journal

By ROBERT BRYCE, Managing Editor of Energy Tribune

One standard for oil companies, another for green energy sources.
Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year.  Yet the Justice Department is not bringing cases against wind companies.

On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.


ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.

Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.

A July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, Calif., estimated that its turbines kill an average of 80 golden eagles per year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, also estimated that about 10,000 birds—nearly all protected by the migratory bird act—are being whacked every year at Altamont.

Altamont’s turbines, located about 30 miles east of Oakland, Calif., kill more than 100 times as many birds as Exxon’s tanks, and they do so every year. But the Altamont Pass wind farm does not face the same threat of prosecution, even though the bird kills at Altamont have been repeatedly documented by biologists since the mid-1990s.

The number of birds killed by wind turbines is highly variable. And biologists believe Altamont, which uses older turbine technology, may be the worst example. But that said, the carnage there likely represents only a fraction of the number of birds killed by windmills. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year. Yet the Justice Department is not bringing cases against wind companies.

“Somebody has given the wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Mr. Fry told me. “If there were even one prosecution,” he added, the wind industry would be forced to take the issue seriously.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry’s trade association, each megawatt of installed wind-power results in the killing of between one and six birds per year. At the end of 2008, the U.S. had about 25,000 megawatts of wind turbines.

By 2030, environmental and lobby groups are pushing for the U.S. to be producing 20% of its electricity from wind. Meeting that goal, according to the Department of Energy, will require the U.S. to have about 300,000 megawatts of wind capacity, a 12-fold increase over 2008 levels. If that target is achieved, we can expect some 300,000 birds, at the least, to be killed by wind turbines each year.

On its Web site, the Wind Energy Association says that bird kills by wind turbines are a “very small fraction of those caused by other commonly accepted human activities and structures—house cats kill an estimated one billion birds annually.” That may be true, but it is not much of a defense. When cats kill birds, federal law doesn’t require marching them to our courthouses to hold them responsible.

During the late 1980s and early ’90s, Rob Lee was one of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s lead law-enforcement investigators on the problem of bird kills in Western oil fields. Now retired and living in Lubbock, Texas, Mr. Lee tells me that solving the problem in the oil fields “was easy and cheap.” The oil companies only had to put netting over their tanks and waste facilities.

Why aren’t wind companies prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds? “The fix here is not easy or cheap,” Mr. Lee told me. He added that he doesn’t expect to see any prosecutions of the politically correct wind industry.

This is a double standard that more people—and not just bird lovers—should be paying attention to. In protecting America’s wildlife, federal law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the harm done by “green” energy.

Mr. Bryce is the managing editor of Energy Tribune.

3 thoughts on “Windmills Are Killing Our Birds

  1. And just what impact do you people think fossil generation has on the health of eco-systems (not just birds), human health and the climate of our planet? Come on folks, pick your battles here. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the conspiracy theories and the evils of wind farms in a world where we’ve got much bigger issues to deal with. Just talk to the average Dane, German or Spaniard – they’re proud of the fact that they are decades ahead of us in North America and make it clear that wind is a part of the solution, just like solar, small hydro and large hydro, biomass and yes, even nukes. Every form of renewable energy has draw backs and impacts and on the whole, they are orders of magnitude less damaging than conventional generation. Conservation alone will play a role, but guess what, the world is still growing and even the most sustainable of businesses need energy. If we cripple ourselves with this type of hysteria and misinformation then we’re going to continue on with the energy status quo and that isn’t good for our kids or the wildlife that we hope to preserve for them.

  2. You are assuming that standby power is only fossil based which is false. Large hydro is already a major standby power source (look up spinning reserve and regulating reserve). Similarly small hydro and bio-energy are also easily dispatchable and will be drawn on more in the future to fill the generating troughs from increased wind penetration.

    Moreover your view of supply and demand is rooted in the past – we’re moving to a dynamic electrical grid where real time price signals and new technologies enable the rapid shedding of demand at scale across the spectrum – from large industrial, institutional, commercial and residential. The standby power requirements of the past are being dramatically revised down as the perceived risks around grid stability are better understood. Wind penetration on the grid was typically capped by the power authorities for this reason and the penetration rates are being raised thanks to better supply-load management practices and quick deploy generation.

    Moreover the wind regime is much more attractive at night (higher speeds, and more consistent) and is ideally suited to offpeak loads such as vehicle electrification which is the recognized path forward. Also look up vehicle-to-grid backup – the electric cars being supported through stimulus funding and very well capitalized by forward looking VCS will be providing large scale backup to smooth out the small variabilities from increased renewable penetration.

    And as more wind power and other renewables come online the net effect is less variability (wind complements solar since the regimes are best at opposite times of day). They average themselves out.

    And the natural gas peaking / standby plants that you refer to are extremely efficient, and clean from a criteria air contaminants standpoint, and much lower from a GHG intensity than coal or oil.

    By taking a snippit as you have from the WWEA web site, and not understanding the context you misrepresent what this leads to uninformed debate. It’s almost as if you think that more wind means more fossil generation. The reality is that every KWH of electricity generated from renewable offsets a KWH of generation from coal or oil so having more standby does not lead to more emmissions. Why would you fire up fossil geneation if you’ve got enough juice coming from the wind farm?

    Try to do some research on the impacts of traditional coal fired generation. You’ve got blinders on unless you look at the full lifecycle impacts of the water, land (tailings leaching) and air impacts of coal mining, CAC and GHG emissions from transportation of the coal vast distances to the generating station, and the downstream air, water and soil impacts from the generation itself (vis-a-vis thermal load in local receiving water bodies, mercury emissions, SOX, NOX, PM).

    If you love birds (as I do), the total lifecycle impact of the alternatives are much worse. Because the impacts are realized throughout the lifecycle of coal I think you find it easier to wrap your head around the kill rate from wind farms because a shot of a dead bird in a wind farm illicits an emotional response from people.

    I emplore you, why don’t you propose some other solutions for our energy needs?

  3. Zoltan: It is obvious you have done a bit of research on the topic, but have failed to go into any depth on what you are discussing. If you did you would know the following:
    Hydro, on river systems, is not a match as most are run of the river, regulated by water management plans which limits holding capacity due to other values that must be protected. Dry weather means less power produced. Wet weather means water must be spilt without producing power. It cannot be relied on to be a major standby power source, as it cannot always be there. Industrial wind turbines must have power to function so cannot exist alone. Dams are not environmentally benign.
    Although there is better controlling and monitoring features to deal with the grid, it is still based on the same technology that existed when the transmission lines were installed. Wind penetration rates can only be raised when an equal reliable peaking capacity is made available. This is one of the major flaws with wind. The random sporadic production of industrial wind is not as smooth as reported in the hourly production tables. The total power reported is the result of bits and pieces of kWs produced whether it is needed or not. I am unsure what is meant by your comment “more consistent”. More consistent than what? Consistent is not a word that anyone who knows wind would use to describe wind. Wind is random and this has implications to power produced as any change in speed has a marked impact on power produced. Higher speeds mean larger fluctuations in speed and more effort required to stabilize the grid. Look up E=f.mspec.v3. (the 3 is supposed be superscripted)
    Why is it assumed electric vehicles will be electrified during offpeak loads? That is asales pitch. Vehicles will be mainly plugged in when people get to work and when they get home. I don’t believe those are offpeak times. As for the future of pure electric vehicles, regardless of efforts made since their invention around 1835 the battery is still an environmental cost and limitation of usefulness to be considered a savour of the environment. Electric vehicles have, as they should, a limited market. Don’t even get me started on hydrogen vehicles.
    The idea that wind complements solar is suggesting a highly random event which changes production output every second of every minute compliments the dribble of solarpower that may be produced on a sunny day. They can never average themselves out unless neither is producing.
    Natural gas peaking/standby plants are extremely efficient, as are most reliable generating stations, but when having to deal with winds erratic power production gas plants become less efficient. The wear and tear of ramping up and down to match wind decreases production efficiencies and increases maintenance costs of gas plants and is one reason wind should stay off the grid. The GHG is a something you should read up on. Try the Heartland Institute for material on that.
    To think every kWhr produced of renewable offsets generation from coal or oil is extremely flawed and has yet to be proven anywhere. When all checks and balances have been done there is a big question as to any savings at all. Everything needs to be built and maintained. Everything has a life span. Just because coal and oil are considered bad does not mean we should invest in what will be inefficient units that will provide not much more than higher costs. Wind is not a substitute for coal and oil plants. This is not about coal vs wind as many would have us believe. Wind will only provide unreliable power so the question is if we want reliable power what do we do?
    To suggest Europe fully supports wind development indicates your research was limited. Anti-wind development demonstrations, moratoriums and limitations have been implemented in Europe. Below is an example of one such article from Europe.
    J.A. Halkema, MSEE, Former Executive Board Member at Brown Boveri Nederland, in his 2005 report “Wind Energy: Facts and Fiction; A Half Truth Is a Whole Lie,” published by the Country Guardian, a UK conservation group, on their website,, wrote the following:
    “Wind energy is and will remain expensive because of the combined properties of wind turbines…

    The price [of wind energy] is of course related to the capacity, to the maximum power of the machine [wind turbine], and is the price for 100% power. Over a given year, however, the turbine will produce on average only 25-30% of its power capacity. This means that of the price for 100% power, about 70-75% is flung to the winds, so to speak. The 70-75% on average does not produce a single kWh. On top of that, the dismal amount of the product, the kWhs, is of very poor ‘quality’… and on many days not available at all. This is the worst property for an electricity supply to have, making it unviable for supply to single consumers, a factory, a hospital or a household. Such a dismal product is of course of reduced value on the energy market and can only be sold at a reduced price, making massive subsidies necessary. These subsidies are paid by the general public…”
    As for solutions if we want energy from the grid we should not waste investment in industrial wind or solar. We should invest in stabilizing demand and invest in reliable efficient generating systems close to the source of demand. If we want less impact to the environment we should live off the grid.

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