Diane Katz, Financial Post
Environmental groups are gloating over the conviction last week of Syncrude Canada Ltd., which now faces fines totalling $800,000 for failing to prevent the deaths of 1,606 ducks that alighted on a company tailings pond two years ago.
Yet the fact a great many more birds and bats are mangled by wind turbine blades each year draws scant attention, much less prosecution. This double standard highlights the widespread misperception that so-called “renewable” energy sources do not demand environmental trade-offs.
That they do was made plain with the recent release of a bird and bat monitoring report from Canada’s second-largest wind farm, the Wolfe Island EcoPower® Centre. In the first eight months of operation, the centre reported 1,962 bird and bat deaths involving 33 bird species and five bat species. Such numbers earned wind power generators the moniker “Cuisinarts of the Air,” but not indictments.
These findings were largely ignored by the same media outlets that for months featured front-page headlines about dead ducks. But the wind power industry enjoys a degree of political favour that would make most other energy executives green with envy. The province of Ontario, for example, actually requires utilities to purchase wind power at inflated rates, while British Columbia mandates an annual quota of electricity from “renewable” sources.
The sprawling $475-million Wolfe Island facility in Frontenac Township off the shores of Kingston, Ont., features 86 wind turbine generators capable of producing 197.8 MW at full capacity–which never occurs because wind is intermittent. The first of two monitoring reports to date, released in February, documented 45 bird fatalities and 45 bat fatalities during May 2009 and June 2009.
The second report, covering the six months between July 2009 and December 2009, documented 602 bird fatalities and 1,270 bat fatalities. The number of raptor and vulture fatalities — 13 in the six-month period — were “among the highest” of any wind farm in the province, according to an official with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
Colliding with blades is hardly the only risk wind power poses to birds and bats. Researchers have also found that the construction of wind farms and associated infrastructure (e. g., buildings, roads and electrical transmission lines) renders wide swaths of habitat less suitable for birds.
Wind farms also require large plots of open land — an estimated 2.5 acres per turbine, on average. As a result, a variety of wildlife also is affected.
This is not to say that wind turbine generators should be eliminated.
Indeed, proponents such as the Canadian Wind Energy Association stress that far more birds — tens of millions annually– are felled by cats, cars, and collisions with skyscrapers. But if that is a sufficient defence, should not the wind farm lobby have flocked to defend Syncrude Canada Ltd. against prosecution for far fewer deaths than routinely occur at wind farms across the country?
There is no shortage of human ingenuity to solve the myriad challenges posed by wind power and other energy sources. But policymakers and the public should not take political rhetoric at face value and assume an inherent superiority of non-fossil-fuel energy sources.
-Diane Katz is director of risk, environment and energy policy at the Fraser Institute