15 June 2011

Say “Yes” to Killing Endangered Birds

The Tasmanian sub-species of the wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax fleayi) is protected by State and Federal law and, under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995, it is an offence even to disturb its general habitat.  Fewer than one hundred and thirty breeding pairs are left in the State.

If a farmer or hunter or anyone else deliberately killed a wedge-tailed eagle, the Greens would be among the first calling loudly for exemplary punishment—but not when giant whirligigs slaughter the birds.  In “Deaths of rare eagles rise”, Andrew Darby, of The Age, wrote last year:
The number of eagles killed by turbine blades at one of Australia’s largest wind farms is climbing, with a rare juvenile wedge-tailed eagle the 22nd to die at Woolnorth in Tasmania’s north-west.
The farm is killing two protected species at the rate of about 3.2 eagles a year, according to a count by the operator, Roaring 40s.
Most of the birds were wedge-tailed, but three white bellied sea eagles have also been killed by the blades, Roaring 40s avian ecologist Cindy Hull said in Hobart. [...]
Tasmanian Environment Minister David O’Byrne [Labor, but supported by the Greens in the Labor/Green alliance] said that wind farms made up only a small proportion of overall eagle deaths in the state, compared with shooting, trapping, and collisions with electrical and fencing wires.
Mr O’Byrne said collisions were anticipated in Woolnorth’s development approval.
“It is an unfortunate outcome that with developments of this nature some bird collisions are inevitable,” he said.
Well, that’s all right then.
Elsewhere in the world, the slaughter continues, and more wind-turbines are killing more birds.  Last week, in “The green killer: Scores of protected golden eagles dying after colliding with wind turbines”, David Gardner, of The Daily Mail, wrote:
California’s attempts to switch to green energy have inadvertently put the survival of the state’s golden eagles at risk.
Scores of the protected birds have been dying each year after colliding with the blades of about 5,000 wind turbines.  [...]
‘It would take 167 pairs of local nesting golden eagles to produce enough young to compensate for their mortality rate related to wind energy production,’ field biologist Doug Bell, manager of East Bay Regional Park District's wildlife programme, told The Los Angeles Times. ‘We only have 60 pairs,’ he added. [...]
‘Once, I discovered a wounded golden eagle hobbling through tall grass, about a quarter mile from the turbine blades that had clipped its flight feathers.’
‘A wind farm owner once told me that if there were no witnesses, it would be impossible to prove a bird had been killed by a wind turbine blade.
‘My response was this: If you see a golden eagle sliced in half in a wind farm, what other explanation is there?’ he added.

The Obama administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind farm for killing eagles and other protected bird species, shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret, an Associated Press investigation has found.
More than 573,000 birds are killed by the country’s wind farms each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles, according to an estimate published in March in the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin.
Each death is federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines.  No wind energy company has been prosecuted, even those that repeatedly flout the law.
Wind power, a pollution-free energy intended to ease global warming, is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s energy plan.  His administration has championed a $1 billion-a-year tax break to the industry that has nearly doubled the amount of wind power in his first term.
The large death toll at wind farms shows how the renewable energy rush comes with its own environmental consequences, trade-offs the Obama administration is willing to make in the name of cleaner energy.  […]
One of the deadliest places in the country for golden eagles is Wyoming, where federal officials said wind farms had killed more than four dozen golden eagles since 2009, predominantly in the southeastern part of the state.  […]
Nearly all the birds being killed are protected under federal environmental laws, which prosecutors have used to generate tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements from businesses, including oil and gas companies, over the past five years.
“What it boils down to is this: If you electrocute an eagle, that is bad, but if you chop it to pieces, that is OK,” said Tim Eicher, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agent based in Cody, Wyo. […]
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has proposed a rule that would give wind-energy companies potentially decades of shelter from prosecution for killing eagles.  The regulation is currently under review at the White House.
The proposal, made at the urging of the wind-energy industry, would allow companies to apply for 30-year permits to kill a set number of bald or golden eagles.  Previously, companies were only eligible for five-year permits.
UPDATE II (18 May, 2013):  see “Wind turbines blow and they suck!”, by Brian Keelan, at First Monday:
A few weeks ago I went to a wind energy presentation (and protest) in Camlachie.  The event was sponsored by Suncor and took place inside the Camlachie Community Centre to promote the wind turbine energy project they have a contract with the Ontario government to build up near Ipperwash.  Outside the Camlachie Community Centre the project was being protested by the people who did not want the wind machines installed.  […]
When I asked how much money they were spending on the project they told me, “Three hundred million dollars,” and gave me some data on the number of hours of employment that would bring to Lambton County.  We all know that work is badly needed in our community.  This would be good work too since it would mean union wages and that’s good money plus they would buy a lot of cement.  You would be amazed at the amount of cement used to anchor one of those things to the planet.
When I asked their people how much money they were going to be paid for the energy they would create I was told eleven and a half cents per Kilowatt hour… a number which all the protestors I talked to thought was low but which the Suncor people stood by.
When I asked about the noise issue—the hum caused by the rotation of the giant blades—they pointed to a non-Suncor specialist who had been hired by Suncor to help us, “get to the truth of the matter,” and he assured me that there was no noise at all.  When I asked him about sub-harmonic frequencies which were not audible but sometimes caused other things to vibrate in harmony and thereby make a noise that seemed to bother people, notably children, he started talking to someone else and soon walked away.  […]
Later it came out that even the 46 people who had turbines being installed on their land might not be so happy about it but we would never officially know, since there is a gag order on the deal once you take the down payment.  So you not only can’t get out of the contract, you also can’t discuss how much money you are getting paid or even say that you are not happy about it.  […]
One other question I wish I had asked the Suncor guy was, “I am told that you will hire a guy just to go around to all the windmills and gather up the bodies of all the birds that get killed by these things… especially during the migratory seasons when birds with no local knowledge come through here.  Is that true?”  I wonder how the greenies rationalize that one.  […]
Then I found a guy named Ross McKitrick, a Ph.D in Economics at The University of Guelph who says that a typical residential electricity bill would rise about 7.9% annually over the next five years and half of that increase would be due to government investment in renewable energy.  Do you want to hold cards like that?
He goes on to say that wind energy is not only intermittent, the energy output is out of phase with the demand for the power since output declines in the morning when demand is increasing and increases in the evening when demand is decreasing.  Wind energy output also peaks in the mid-fall when demand is decreasing since our air-conditioners are off and our furnaces are not yet on.  So wind produces energy at times that we don’t need it. When I hear that, I’m seriously thinking about folding.
According to the Auditor General of Ontario, in every year since 2006 the entire output of the wind sector is surplus to current demand and has been dumped on the export market at typically less than 4 cents per kWh. There are even times when we pay to get rid of the stuff.  […]
I learned that Spain and Germany, the countries Ontario modeled their wind energy programs on, are losing their shirts on wind energy subsidies and doing everything they can to get out of the contracts.
Now I’m not just walking away from the table, I’m running […].  Sure, I think renewable energy sources are fine as long as we can make the numbers work.  […]  The free market will not invest in this kind of energy unless they get a ridiculous, no-lose guarantee from a government that wants to be judged by their intentions… not by their results.
UPDATE III (27 May, 2013):

UPDATE IV (13 September):  see “Study: Wind farms killed 67 eagles in 5 years:
Wind energy facilities have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years, but the figure could be much higher, according to a new scientific study by government biologists.
The research represents one of the first tallies of eagle deaths attributed to the nation’s growing wind energy industry, which has been a pillar of President Barack Obama's plans to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming.  Wind power releases no air pollution.
But at a minimum, the scientists wrote, wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997, with most deaths occurring between 2008 and 2012, as the industry was greatly expanding. Most deaths—79—were golden eagles that struck wind turbines.  One of the eagles counted in the study was electrocuted by a power line.
The vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, Mike Parr, said the tally was “an alarming and concerning finding.”
A trade group, the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement that the figure was much lower than other causes of eagle deaths.  The group said it was working with the government and conservation groups to find ways to reduce eagle casualties.
Still, the scientists said their figure is likely to be “substantially” underestimated, since companies report eagle deaths voluntarily and only a fraction of those included in their total were discovered during searches for dead birds by wind-energy companies.  The study also excluded the deadliest place in the country for eagles, a cluster of wind farms in a northern California area known as Altamont Pass.  Wind farms built there decades ago kill more than 60 per year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wind farms get extended leeway on eagle deaths”, by Maria L. La Ganga:
“Companies can now get a federal permit for up to 30 years allowing bald or golden eagles to be killed without penalty. Previous permits expired after 5 years.”