But even bird conservationists favor wind over fossil fuels & nukes
CHEYENNE, Wyoming––Charged with killing at least 150 bald and golden eagles over the past decade at wind farms in eight states, the NextEra Energy subsidiary ESI Energy on April 5, 2022 pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
That case and many others pending against wind power producers are making passive solar photovoltaic panels on your rooftop look more and more like the best of options for birds and bats, to combat global warming, to power your car as soon as electric vehicle prices drop into the affordable transportation bracket, and to cut your household electricity costs here and now.
ANIMALS 24-7 testifies
Rooftop passive solar photovoltaic panels have no negative effects on birds and bats, the under sides may provide habitat to bank swallows, the top sides may provide perches to passerine species, and ANIMALS 24-7, a year after installing 22 photovoltaic panels on the roof of our 20-odd-year-old, 1,000-square-foot, all-electric manufactured home and office situated at the edge of the snowbelt, appears to have realized first-year energy cost reduction of 80% plus.
Back in Cheyenne, ESI Energy under the plea bargain agreement accepted fines totaling more than $8 million and pledged to spend up to $27 million to prevent future eagle deaths during five years on probation.
“That includes shutting down turbines at times when eagles are more likely to be present,” summarized Associated Press.
$29,623 per eagle
If eagles are killed anyway, ESI Energy will be fined $29,623 per eagle death.
That would cover photovoltaic panel installations sufficient to power three homes the size of ours.
Associated Press noted that the penalties against ESI Energy were assessed “amid a push by President Joe Biden for more renewable energy from wind, solar and other sources to help reduce climate changing emissions,” but also “amid a renewed commitment by federal wildlife officials under Biden to enforce protections for eagles and other birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, after criminal prosecutions were halted under former President Donald Trump.”
Ran through red lights
Continued Associated Press, “Companies historically have been able to avoid prosecution if they take steps to avoid bird deaths and seek permits for those that occur,” but ESI Energy “did not seek such a permit,” ignored warnings that wind farm designs would cause avoidable bird deaths, and “at times ignored advice from federal wildlife officials about how to minimize the deaths, according to court documents.”
Wind power circa 40 years ago was widely seen as the energy technology of the future, with low environmental impact and the then barely developed potential to replace fossil fuel-burning power plants and nuclear reactors.
But the first major “wind farm,” brought online at Altamont, California in 1981, within a few years was found to be killing birds and bats who flew into the paths of the turbine blades in appalling numbers. Eagles, hawks, owls, and other federally protected species were discovered to be most at risk.
Technological fix proved elusive
The problem was at first believed to have a relatively easy technological fix.
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, operated by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, in Richland, Washington, spent multi-millions of dollars trying to find that fix, investigating higher windmill towers, lower windmill towers, slower turbine blades, differently shaped blades, warning light patterns, and just about anything else anyone could think of.
Eventually wind turbine designs were developed that kill fewer birds and bats, but even a low toll can do irrecoverable harm to a rare or endangered species.
The Altamont, California wind farm in 2015 decommissioned 828 of the oldest wind turbines installed there, among more than 5,000, after the Golden Gate Audubon Society, several other Audubon Society chapters, and the San Francisco Bay Sierra Club chapter documented the deaths on site of at least 67 golden eagles, 80 American kestrels, 57 burrowing owls, and 172 red-tailed hawks in 10 years.
Wind still in the running
Only 23 state-of-the-art wind turbines, believed to be bird-friendly, were brought online in September 2021 to replace the energy output from 569 of the older wind turbines.
That progress in efficiency is enough to keep wind power in the race to replace fossil fuels, nuclear reactors, and even hydroelectric dams that obstruct salmon runs, but the numbers show passive solar via rooftop solar panels passing wind turbines as if they are standing still.
This is occurring even though wind energy output has continued to grow at 20% per year in the 21st century, provided 5% of total U.S. electricity generation by 2016, and is projected by the U.S. Department of Energy to provide 35% by 2050.
Solar electrical output, an almost negligible fraction of U.S. electrical generation as of 2000, is now producing almost more power than wind did a decade ago.
U.S. Department of Energy data on employment by energy sector tells the story.
As of 2016, 187,117 people were employed in electrical generation using fossil fuels, mostly operating power plants built decades ago.
Another 68,176 people were employed by nuclear power generation, almost all of them operating reactors built fifty years ago and longer.
Wind power generation employed 101,738 people, many of them working to expand capacity.
Passive solar generating via photovoltaics employed 373,807 people, practically all of them working to expand capacity.
Betting that wind power development is here to stay, regardless of impact on birds and bats, and especially on endangered species, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in February 2021 cut a deal with Avangrid Renewables to allow the construction of the 126-turbine Manzana Wind Power Project in the Tehachapi mountains of Kern County, California to proceed, on condition that Avangrid Renewables helps to fund a California condor captive breeding program.
Reported Louis Sahagún for the Los Angeles Times, “Roughly 100 captive-bred condors currently soar above the rugged Tehachapi range between the Mojave Desert and the fertile Central Valley. Although there has yet to be a documented case of a wind turbine injuring or killing a condor, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says condor collisions are inevitable if the population continues to balloon.
“Now, federal wildlife authorities are taking the unprecedented and controversial step of helping a wind energy company breed the scavengers in captivity, so that they can replace any birds that are killed by the massive wind converters.”
“Tough to pinpoint a better alternative”
The deal requires Avangrid to contribute $527,000 over three years to the California condor captive breeding program at the Oregon Zoo.
Said American Bird Conservancy spokesperson Joel Merriman, “Having a conversation about raising condors — a poster child of the Endangered Species Act — to kill them is a hard pill to swallow. But it is also tough to pinpoint a better alternative,” since most other forms of electrical generating, rooftop passive solar excepted, are more environmentally destructive, with comparable effects on birds.
Staving off climate change
Added Garry George, clean energy director for the National Audubon Society, “If wind energy and the expanding condor population can’t get along, we’re not going to get very far in staving off catastrophic climate change or saving this magnificent creature from extinction.”
Mentioned Sahagún, “Today, the population of California condors is 518 individuals, including 181 in captivity and 337 soaring over Ventura and Kern counties, the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Grand Canyon and Baja California, Mexico. For the first time in half a century, some condors are roosting near Yosemite National Park.
“If the population continues to expand its range, scientists say, the species may be eligible for down-listing from its current critically endangered status to threatened within a few decades.”
Back in 2013, Sahagún recalled, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2013 issued an “incidental take” permit to the Terra-Gen Power wind farm in the Tehachapi Mountains, meaning that Terra-Gen will not be prosecuted if their turbines accidentally kill a condor during the projected 30-year lifespan of the wind power development.
That deal required Terra-Gen Power to install a monitoring system designed to detect condors outfitted with radio transmitters, and to shut down the turbines if a condor approached.
The Center for Biological Diversity objected that only some of the California condors now in the wild have been outfitted with radio transmitters.