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Wind Turbines Kill a Few Birds 991

Posted by michael
from the cuisinart dept.
Guppy06 writes "The Houston Chronicle has an article about how a 7000-turbine windfarm in Altamont Pass, California (the world's largest collection) has killed an estimated 22,000 birds during the past 20 years or so of operation, 'including hundreds of golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, kestrels and other raptors(.)' There are efforts to keep the operators from renewing their permit until they take measures to protect bird populations. To put things in perspective the article goes on to point out that the Exxon Valdez spill is estimated to have killed around 250,000, while the whole story can just about be summed up by one quote by a biologist: 'When you turn on your lights you kill something, no matter what the source of electricity.'" Killing 3-4 birds per day doesn't seem too bad. It's a shame that larger, rarer birds are getting killed, but... How many birds would die from the acid rain that a coal power plant would cause?
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Wind Turbines Kill a Few Birds

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  • by HerringFlavoredFowl (170182) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:33PM (#7839123)
    I remember seeing something about it's location being in a migratory flight path and other wind projects did not have the same problem.
  • by Tim2 (151713) * <twegner@sw b e l l.net> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:34PM (#7839153)
    The Altamont story about wind farms killing birds is old news. While true, the story is misleading because the vast majority of wind farms are in very different settings with a much lower thread toi birds. A much more reasoned analysis can be found here: http://www.ibiblio.org/pardo/birds/archive/archive 2/msg00468.html
  • Nice quote (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:40PM (#7839245) Homepage Journal
    "Researched by Wyoming-based Western EcoSystems Technology, the report contends that many more birds are killed annually in collisions with vehicles (60 million), window panes (98 million) and communication towers (4 million) than die nationwide in wind turbines (10,000 to 40,000).

    Even the common household cat, wind power industry advocates argue, is responsible for more bird deaths than turbines"

    heh, a little persective, there.

  • by Fess_Longhair (695896) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:43PM (#7839302)
    When deployed on large scales, non-hydrocarbon energy sources all have downsides; e.g. salmon and dams.

    Conservation still makes the most sense to me. We should get serious about reducing our energy needs with government incentives for energy efficiency.

  • by phiala (680649) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:46PM (#7839351)
    Out of curiousity, I checked the literature on the subject (by which I mean actual peer-reviewed biological journals), since most of the web sites a cursory search turned up appeared to be propaganda, either pro or con.

    There isn't a whole lot, but here's some extra information (refs available on request):

    Osborn et al. 2000
    Minnesota, estimate 36 +/- 12 birds per year, less than one per turbine

    Osborn et al. 1998 (same site):
    Observed flight patterns, found that most bird flew above or below the turbine level

    Johnson et al. 2002 (same site):
    "We assessed effects of the wind farm on birds from 1996 to 1999, with 55 documented collision fatalities. Recovered carcasses included 42 passerines, 5 waterbirds, 3 ducks, 3 upland game birds, 1 raptor, and 1 shorebird."

    De Lucas et al. 2004:
    Straits of Gibralter, most birds altered flight path to avoid turbines

    Several of these researchers seem to think that turbines do kill birds, but in very small numbers compared to other structural sources of mortality. (birds hit stuff, especially plate glass windows)

    The problem is that it's easy to count dead birds at the base of turbines, but hard to count birds that died from most other sources of power...

  • by lelitsch (31136) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:49PM (#7839400)
    Most of the nubmers they quote seem to come from this page [currykerlinger.com]. The site has also some data on newer sites.
  • by xtermin8 (719661) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:49PM (#7839413)
    Valdeez is a horrible example- it just brings up an image of masses dead birds. In the same article however, "Researched by Wyoming-based Western EcoSystems Technology, the report contends that many more birds are killed annually in collisions with vehicles (60 million), window panes (98 million) and communication towers (4 million) than die nationwide in wind turbines (10,000 to 40,000)" Now those numbers put things in perspective.
  • Legend (Score:5, Informative)

    by Elektroschock (659467) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:58PM (#7839527)
    I think this may be a legend. I Germany there was research about bird populations and wind farms. In the 80th it was suspected that it had effects on bird death, that rotors may kill birds. However this assumption was falsified by empirical evidence.
  • old technology (Score:2, Informative)

    by codegen (103601) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:58PM (#7839533) Journal
    Part of the problem is the older technology used in these farms. From the pictures, it looks like they are about 7 metre blades that rotate at a relatively fast rate. The new towers such as the one recently put up in Pickering, ON [opg.com], are the larger 30 metre constant velocity blades(typically they run at about 12 rpm) This presents a significantly lower risk to birds and bird risk was part of the environmental impact study (Lake Ontario is on the major migratory flight paths). It is also much quieter (the tower is right over one of the main walking paths on the shore of Lake Ontario)

    Perhaps a better way rather than a straight renewal would be a planed upgrade path to newer technology towers that present less of a hazard to wildlife.

  • Re:Acid Rain (Score:4, Informative)

    by Valdrax (32670) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:58PM (#7839534)
    Acid rain is a myth that has been debunked for years.

    By who, the Iraqi Information Minister? I used to live in the house my father grew up in, which is downwind from a paper mill. When he was growing up, the rain would literally peel away the paint on my grandparents' house and car over a few months, and the grass and trees were always sickly. In the wake of clean air legislation, I've never had to see acid rain, and my yard was always green. I don't even smell the stink that used to occasionally come from the plant when I was a kid anymore.
  • by exhilaration (587191) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @05:59PM (#7839555)
    And a study at a single Florida coal-fired power plant with four smokestacks recorded an estimated 3,000 deaths in a single evening during a fall migration - "Bird Casualties at a Central Florida Power Plant," Maehr, D. S., et al., Florida Field Naturalist, 11:45-49, 1983. Florida Ornithological Society.

    From here [ibiblio.org]

  • Re:Solution ? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Carnildo (712617) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:07PM (#7839647) Homepage Journal
    Exactly, and there are 7000 turbines, so that makes little over 3 birds killed per turbine in 20 years, or 0.157... birds/year/turbine! Compare this to other mechanical devices killing animals, like cars running over hedgehogs, boats knocking fish on the head, animals killed after Chernobyl, or insects on your wind-shield and I'm impressed, 22000 is pretty low.

    As a quick comparison, in the past year, three birds have died after running into the living-room window in my house. Those turbines are downright safe!
  • Re:Solution ? Duh.. (Score:1, Informative)

    by NeoThermic (732100) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:16PM (#7839764) Homepage Journal
    >> Just encase the fans in glass.

    Yes....
    You see, the whole point of wind turbines is that wind drives them... If you encase them in glass... well, that rather defeats the object, no?

    Anyway. I've actualy seen these things first hand. A solution is not easy to come by when your talking each blade being many meters across.

    The main problem is not the birds getting sucked in. The blades, although moving fast, don't create enough vacumn to draw large objects towards them. The main problem is that birds don't see the overall movement of the blade, and thus fly through the blades path. Most of the time the blades are not above the bird as it enters and thus the bird makes it through. But every so often, the blade is above the bird as it goes through, and, you guessed it, it gets hit.

    However, between 7000 turbines and 22,000 birds, thats not exactly a bad statistic. More birds are killed by lots of other things, such as aircraft, cars, and yes, even your humble domestic cat.

    NeoThermic
  • by fermion (181285) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:55PM (#7840157) Homepage Journal
    In case anyone might take the newspaper seriously, here are a few facts. The Chronicle is a barely literate newspaper most suitable for use as a method to teach elementary school students about correcting errors in english usage. The papers main purpose is to deliver coupons and support local and state governments. The chron did little to expose the lies of the local education administrators, even though such lies were obvious to anyone with the ability of logical thought.

    The newspaper is beholden to the local oil interests. Weeks into the Enron collapsed, they still had not carried a major story exlaining issue. Again all out news came from the NYT. To this day they still believe Ken Lay is just the most honest wonderful stand up guy. He had no responsibility for the actions of his company.

    The funniest thing about the Chronicle, at least locally, is their distribution method. In order to keep the numbers up, they give the newspapers to homeless people. These people are then free to trade the newspaper for money. I think they promise to sell all the papers, and the Chronicle checks up on them. I have had such people throw a paper into my car just so they could get out of the sun. Of course all these papers are reported as circulated.

  • by Spamalamadingdong (323207) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:56PM (#7840170) Homepage Journal
    While I agree with you about nuclear, I have brontosaur femur-sized bones to pick with some of your other claims:
    Wind: Nonviable (kills birds, not cost efficient.)
    If you've looked at the price curve of wind power, it is already cheaper than fossil fuels with current tax incentives. Further, the industry is still gaining experience and turning it into new units which cost less per watt and produce power cheaper. The result is soon to be wind turbines which are cheaper than fossil without tax incentives. I favor incentives to keep the production up so we get there sooner (solar-thermal was snuffed prematurely by a sudden loss of tax incentives, google for "Luz" for gory details).
    Solar: Nonviable (cost of production exceeds energy consumed, massive chemical waste byproducts)
    Solar is quite viable and compares very favorably with the cost of extending utility service for more than a fraction of a mile. The energy cost of a solar panel is repaid within 2-5 years; the estimated useful life is upwards of 25 years.
    Coal and gas: Viable (unless you believe in global warming, which most "greens" do)
    North America is rapidly running out of gas (to the point where Alan Greenspan has noted the need for CNG terminals to import it from overseas lest shortages clobber the economy), and coal emits so much nasty shit in the form of sulfur and mercury that it is not usable without a complete overhaul of the technology; for instance, pulverized-coal combustion boilers have got to go or we won't have edible gamefish due to methyl mercury contamination.
    Conservation: Nonscalable. Cut your energy consumption by 50%? Sure. But 50% of O(N^x, where x &gt 1) is still going to present you with unacceptable constraints on growth.
    If you start stacking conservation measures (insulation, daylighting, complete replacement of incancescent lighting with fluorescent or better, hybrid vehicles) on top of local/alternative production (e.g. wind, microhydro, local concentrating solar [energyinnovations.com]) the remaining demand starts to look like something we can handle with fuel derived from crop byproducts or municipal refuse. If we ever get something like the ten-cent-a-watt solar film that was touted earlier this year, the cost of energy is going to fall so much that fossil fuels are just going to be left by the wayside, as spermaceti died after the development of the kerosene industry.
  • [Altamont Pass is]
    in a migratory flight path and other wind projects did not have the same problem.

    That is true, but the problem is solved primarily because the new, larger capacity turbines spin quite a bit slower, while the 30-year-old Altimont Pass turbines are fast and dangerous (and rather loud, too.) Once the Altamont Pass turbines are replaced (over the next fifteen years) they expect raptor kills to decline to as few as five or ten per year, IIRC.

    Also, people forget that ordinary housecats kill between 200 and 300 million birds per year (not raptors, granted.)

  • by Senjutsu (614542) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @07:08PM (#7840274)
    You mean the modern theory (singular) of abiogenic hydrocarbons, promoted here in the US by one man, Thomas Gold. The theory is still controversial in the extreme, primarily accepted only by the Russian oil industry.

    Interesting article here [aapg.org]
  • by mfarver (43681) * on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @07:42PM (#7840599) Journal
    The bird kill in California is often used as a anti-wind argument. (Texans still think of themselves as an oil producing state, despite having a net import of oil for about 10 years now)

    In this case it is a flaw in the design of the farm... in Alton pass the turbines sit on gridded towers (like high tension lines). These towers make excellent perches, and a lot of birds hang out in them. Hawks especially have a tendency to dive at prey, and run smack into a turbine blade.(They don't get chopped up, just collide like your living room window.)

    Most newer wind farms have far less turbines (its cheaper days to install a single 1MW turbine, than 10 100KW turbines. Also the industry has learned that monopole tower (a single smooth shaft, rather than a lattice) keeps the birds away. (Its cheaper to install too..)

    This comment created using 100% renewable electrons via AustinEnergy GreenChoice (mostly wind)
  • by apuku (576996) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @07:44PM (#7840614)
    Most estimates seem to put the number of birds killed by windows at somewhere around 100,000,000 per year.
    Here's one reference: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/BODY_UW054 [ufl.edu]
  • by InThane (2300) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @08:05PM (#7840797) Homepage Journal
    ...that is, for threatening a /.ing of the ISP which I occasionally use.

    But cats do indeed occasionally go after the bigger birds - see below link.

    http://www.oz.net/~inthane/catbird.jpg

    This is an honest-to-god picture of a cat attacking an eagle at some eagle preserve in Japan - can't give more detail than that off the top of my head, sorry.
  • by ron_ivi (607351) <sdotno AT cheapcomplexdevices DOT com> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @08:08PM (#7840822)
    Huh? How is it better because the animal was tortured and imprisoned before it was killed.

    Personally I find it much more humane to eat a freshly hunted duck or deer that at least had a chance to live a happy life, than a wing-clipped-caged-chicken or a immobalized-and-starved-veal-calf.

    (And no, I'm not PETA herbivore - Sure Chicken tastes yummy, but free-range chickens that got to exercize taste even better and I feel less cruel eating them.)

  • by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate.gmail@com> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @08:24PM (#7840943)
    The poor management of one company does not mean nuclear power is expensive. You are correct in that regulation and security add a great deal of cost, but incorrect that this is a deal breaker.

    I work at a nuclear power plant, and we sell electricity in a de-regulated market. We underbid all the other types of plants in the New Hampshire Market, and still make hundreds of millions of dollars a year in profit.

    We buy our fuel from Westinghouse, and they seem to find it to be a profitable business, because they're still in it. They charge us $750,000 per fuel assembly (193 at a time), and if you read my other post, you'll understand why we pay gladly.

    Decomissioning a plant is expensive, true, but represents the profit of one years operation, out of a 40-60 year run for most US plants. The threat of terrorism has undoubtable cost a lot of money in additional security, but since incredibly tight security was the rule long before 9/11, I doubt the increase was even 25% of the security budget. No facts on that, just an educated guess. You'd have to have a team of Navy Seals to get into our plant unnoticed, and even if you did, the worst you could do would be to irreprably damage the plant- not harm the public.
  • Re:Solution ? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ironica (124657) <pixel@boondoc[ ]rg ['k.o' in gap]> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @08:24PM (#7840947) Journal
    If spider webs clogged up the screening then I'd say your turbines weren't getting too much wind in the first place.

    Have you ever driven through this particular wind farm, or one much like it?

    For one thing, as much wind as these things get, they don't get wind ALL the time. Some spiders are pretty darn fast. (We used to end up with webs across the path to our back gate all the time, even though we walked through there every day.)

    For another thing, some of the turbines are usually turned off. I'm not sure why, but you'll look out and see a patch that are busily whirring away, and another patch right next to them still as stone. Maybe maintenance, efficiency, or bird preservation... but it happens.
  • by slezb (736687) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @08:44PM (#7841078)
    I worked as a radio operator for US Windpower in 1991. Every day there are some 10-40 work crews in the fields doing maintenance on these towers. There are very strict regulations for the reporting of killed or injured birds. Every time a bird is found, a local 'expert' is brought in the verify the species and take it to a shelter if it is injured. I was kind of annoyed and surprised by how seriously everybody took it. In the three months (summer job) I worked there, there was one dead bird and one injured bird discovered. Average working crew was hitting probably 5-10 towers per day. US Windpower is the largest operator of windmills in the altamont pass by a wide margin. -Brian
  • by rifter (147452) on Wednesday December 31, 2003 @12:40AM (#7842668) Homepage

    Yeah, I (the original guy who made that comment, but posting as an AC to avoid burning karma) kinda agree with you -- some farms are nice - a farm in Santa Cruz where you can see the birds wander around (wings not clipped, hanging around for the food) -- others, even free range ones, suck, and they clip the wings and let the birds roam "free" just for the marketing gimmic.

    What's so bad about clipping their flight feathers? It does not hurt the chickens and actually prevents them hurting themselves. I have raised chickens and, well, they just don't fly all that well. They are likely to get hurt trying to fly over fences and such. So clipping their flight feathers is actually humane.

    I don't like the idea that factory farm chickens get their beaks clipped. It probably does hurt the chickens. BUt the rationale is that clipping their beaks prevents them from pecking each other to death, which they certainly will do if allowed to do so. They are especially bad about pecking wounded chickens, so it is one of those things that escalates.

    Personally I prefer the free-range method, but even if we allow factory farms there are some very basic modifications that could be made to make them more humane. I don't like to think that the drumstuck I am eating was once permanently fused to the bottom of a cage at the foot because the foot, mired in the feces of the chicken it was attached to and hundred s of chickens above it, naturally had the wires of the cage gradually cut into it over time and then tried to heal back but for lack of room included the wire in the foot. I don't like to think about all those wounded chickens that have to be fed overdoses of antibiotics to keep said feet from just rotting off. I also don't like to think about the tons of chickenshit allowed into our drinking water.

    But all of that boils down to simple neglect and the factory farms not giving a shit, literally. If a few basic laws were passed, the farms would be able to continue to operate with minor modifications and the chickens would have a better life. They would still be bred in a cage for slaughter, but it would be a nicer cage.

    I don't know if you can breed as many chickens in a free range farm. If you can then they should switch to that method as it is better all around. But in closing, clipping their wings is not so horrible as the normal lot of chickens.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Wednesday December 31, 2003 @09:00AM (#7844268)
    Chernobyl has nothing in common with US, or any non-russian plant. Take TMI. Destroyed the core, but released no appreciable radiation to the public.

    Come back when you can tell me all the differences between TMI and Chernobyl.


    While it is true that the RBMK plant used at Chernobyl is very different than the Pressurized Water Reactor:

    Russian vs US
    Graphite moderated (it burns) vs. Water
    No containment vs Concrete
    Positive power coefficent vs Negitive power coefficent

    for starters;

    both accidents had one thing in common - operator error.

    At Chernobyl, the operators deliberately bypassed safety systems in order to run a test;

    At TMI - operators missinterpreted readings and incorrectly decided the greatest danger to the core was overpressurizing the vessel, and shut down safety systems; when what actually was happening was a leak was lowering level. had the TMI operators done nothing but watch the lights blink in the control room, it would have been a non-event.

    TMI's containment, prevented any significant release and appears to also have withstood an Hydrogen burn as well.

    as a result of TMI, INPO was created to share info between planst and improve performance. Chernobyl resulted in WANO for a worldwide effort. INPO has been much more successful, - US operators fear INPO, but WANO has much less worldwide clout (unless much has changed in the last 5 years)

    As for the future of nuclear power, plant values are rising because they are a cheap way to produce lots of power; I predict we'll see a US order of a new plant by 2015; though it probably will be built on an existing site that was licensed for more plants than were actually built. (To avoid siting problems delaying a license)

We can predict everything, except the future.

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