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Outside » Natural World

Take Back the Power: The wind turbines story that the industry doesn't want you to hear

Wind turbines are killing more birds than you might think.



No matter what you think about individual wind generators, or so-called, "wind farms," one overwhelming fact cannot be denied: they're all bad news for wildlife, especially birds and bats.

Yes, the original idea was a good one: cheap electricity from a renewable resource and a way to generate power while weaning us from fossil fuels. But in the final analysis, all that wind coming from government agencies - and the industry - about how much we need the power, and how little the industry is destroying wildlife populations, is a bunch of hot air. The bottom line now is profit for the investors, not cheap power or concern over wildlife.

If you think that wind generators are docile windmills dotting the landscape that just generate power - think again. No matter where wind turbines are deployed, the damage to the world we live in is beyond the permissible limits.

All the posturing by wind industry big mouths cannot change the fact that the tips of the propellers of wind turbines (when the wind is blowing) spin at more than 200 miles per hour! If you were an eagle or an owl hunting for a meal - or any bird trying to fly over the hill along the Columbia River where wind farms are being built at a terrifying clip - imagine having to navigate these spinning blades every day.

During the last 25 years of operating in California, wind turbines have killed more than 30,000 birds of prey that have tried to fly through the gauntlet of spinning blades. Some estimates done by the University of California at Berkley indicate the mortality higher at 40,000, and about 1,000 of these fatalities have been golden eagles. And scientists are just now beginning to study the damages to bat populations.

This is the ugly secret of the powerful prop-turbine wind industry, a story that you won't see on the "feel-good" TV commercials or read about in industry-sponsored ads. The bottom line is that today there is serious money invested in wind farms that generate electricity and big profits. As has been proved by the skullduggery of the banking industry, when people have large investments, they do what they need to in order to justify and protect that investment - even if creating wrong and irreversible damages to society, man and wildlife is the result. That, in my way of thinking, is "irresponsible free enterprise."

And don't think for a moment that this is a problem restricted to Oregon. There is a rising international outcry against these killing machines that are spreading like cancers across fragile habitats and scenic open spaces around the globe. Concern for endangered species in Australia caused the Federal Minister of the Environment to halt two wind farm projects that had been approved by state governments. The battle over the effect of wind farms in Wisconsin led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cooperate with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which countered the assertions of the project's developer, the Forward Wind Energy Center.

"It is imperative that potential displacement, injury and mortality risks to wildlife be avoided and minimized to the extent possible, and, thus far, it appears that the risks specific to the wildlife onsite have been neither studied nor adequately avoided," states the Nov. 18 letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to the wind industry representatives.

Recently, the BLM Prineville office asked for comments on the proposed West Butte power project, a 52-turbine farm slated for roughly 30 miles east of Bend and north of Highway 20. I have lived in Central Oregon since 1952, and have been working with golden eagles formally since 1962. So I thought I had some worthwhile comments to make regarding the subject of the impact on raptors.

Given that golden eagles are actively nesting in the vicinity of West Butte and that current studies show that hundreds of eagles are killed annually by wind turbines, I thought a wind farm there wasn't in the best interest of eagle survival. My letter, stating that fact, and other details related to eagles and other raptors on and near West Butte was greeted by a five-page rebuttal by the biologist working for the wind farm industry. Perhaps he was hoping that something in that scientific diatribe would somehow mitigate the indisputable fact that wind turbines kill eagles.

Among some of his points was the disjointed, out-of-context idea that wind developers minimize the risk that turbines pose to birds by pointing out that more birds are killed each year by cars, cats, buildings, and causes other than turbines. What he failed to point out is the fact that there are several million cars, cats and buildings contributing to that total, while there are only few thousand turbines operating in the world. Most importantly, he failed to mention that cats don't kill eagles and bats like wind turbines. With the rush to slap up turbines before the tax credits run out, these statistics will soon change, and more birds and bats will die.

There are alternatives to wind turbines, but America being America - and with the way the pendulum of economics and government projects swings so dramatically from one-side-to-the-other - it will take a very noisy "squeaky wheel" to bring about awareness and change.

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