Hot air from renewable energy foes is not supported by science
POINT PLEASANT, New Jersey––There were no offshore wind turbines operating off the Atlantic coast of the United States in 2016, just a lot of routine commercial shipping, fishing, and recreational boating.
Hardly anyone seemed to care when the National Oceanic Administration [NOAA] Office of Protected Resources warned that dead whales were washing up along Atlantic shores with abnormal frequency.
“Unusual mortality event”
The toll soared to a record 78 dead whales in 2017. NOAA declared an “unusual mortality event” in April 2017. But there were few if any public protests.
Warnings to the captains of cargo vessels, fishing boats, and recreational boaters seemed to help a little during the next several years.
“Only” 59 whales washed up dead in 2018, 59 again in 2019, and another 59 in 2020.
Then the whale carcass count returned to a closer-to-normal 31 in 2021, and 32 in 2022.
Altogether, 184 humpback whales and lesser numbers of sei, fin, sperm, minke, and highly endangered northern right whales died during six years of elevated mortality.
“More research is needed”
The NOAA Office of Protected Resources tried to find the cause.
“Partial or full necropsy examinations were conducted on approximately half of the whales,” NOAA summarized in a February 16, 2023 media statement.
“Of the whales examined, about 40 percent had evidence of human interaction, either ship strike or entanglement,” NOAA said, concluding “More research is needed.”
Now, however, “Multiple offshore wind developments have been initiated in the area since President Joe Biden’s election in 2020,” observed Charlotte Elton of EuroNews.com/green on February 21, 2023.
“There are two wind farms in operation, with seven turbines total. Another two farms are being constructed off New York and Massachusetts,” Elton enumerated.
That is just seven operating wind turbines along the entire 2,069 miles of Atlantic shoreline, albeit that many more are in various stages of planning.
But now, despite this relatively tiny amount of offshore generating activity, compared to the scope of offshore wind power development already producing electricity in other parts of the world, many Atlantic coast residents are alarmed.
Bannered Thomas Catenacci on February 22, 2023 for Climate Change Dispatch, a right-leaning web site noted mostly for opposing clean energy development and denying the effects of global warming, “A coalition of 30 mayors representing communities along the New Jersey coast is calling on federal lawmakers and officials to implement a moratorium on offshore wind development in response to a spate of whale deaths.
“At least 10 dead whales have beached in New Jersey and New York alone since December 2022,” Catenacci fulminated.
“Breaking along political party lines”
The far right has never been confused with a mob of bleeding-heart liberal save-the-whalers, but the mayors’ appeal has support.
Noted Gloria Oladipo for The Guardian two days earlier, “Thousands gathered at New Jersey’s Point Pleasant beach on Sunday with a united mission: to pause offshore wind projects in response to recent whale deaths along the New York-New Jersey coast.
“The gathering unfolded even as officials dispute the notion that the projects may be to blame for the dead whales, a controversy that – like many – is breaking along political party lines.”
For those keeping score at home, 255 whales washed up dead along the U.S. Atlantic coast during the four years that Donald Trump was president, when Republicans determined national environmental policy.
Only 73 whales, including the ten so far in 2023, have washed up dead during the first three years of the Joe Biden administration, with Democrats in charge.
Corryn Wetzel of New Scientist took a more measured look at the situation on February 21, 2023.
“Since December 1, 2022,” Wetzel wrote, “there have been 22 large whale strandings along the U.S. Atlantic coast, according to NOAA. These include 15 humpback whales, three sperm whales, two North Atlantic right whales, one sei whale and one minke whale.”
“Humpback whales typically account for the bulk of strandings,” Wetzel explained, “which may be because they are the most abundant whale in the area.”
This appears to be because the abundance of “a small, silvery fish called Atlantic menhaden has been on the rise in recent years as commercial fishing waned,” Wetzel suggested.
“But that means humpbacks have been hanging around their feeding grounds for longer than usual as a result, which puts them in the path of shipping.”
Wetzel noted that the loss of two northern right whales, with fewer than 350 individuals of the species remaining, brought the toll since 2016 to about 20% of the population, according to NOAA estimates.
“Some blame the unusually high [whale] mortality on the noise created by surveying equipment for offshore wind turbine installations,” Wetzel acknowledged, “though NOAA says there is no evidence to support the claims that such noise impedes whales’ ability to navigate and communicate.
“There are no known connections between any of this offshore wind activity and any whale stranding regardless of species,” NOAH Office of Protected Resources chief Benjamin Laws told media on January 18, 2023.
“Cynical disinformation campaign” says Greenpeace
Greenpeace USA, whose founding issue and chief fundraising vehicle has been whale protection, rubbished the notion that the whale losses have anything to do with wind power.
“There has been a lot of talk about wind turbines and whale deaths, but there is no evidence whatsoever connecting the two,” Greenpeace USA deep sea mining project leader Arlo Hemphill told Wetzel.
Agreed Greenpeace oceans director John Hocevar, to USA Today. “It’s just a cynical disinformation campaign” by advocates for fossil fuels and nuclear power.
“Other areas with high numbers of wind farms have not seen an increase in whale mortality,” Wetzel confirmed.
Some point to British data. Reported Helen Briggs for BBC News in September 2019,
“The number of whales and dolphins washing up around the U.K. coastline has risen. In 2017 alone, 1,000 animals were stranded––more than in any year since records began.
“A total of 4,896 whales, dolphins and porpoises died on beaches between 2011 and 2017 ––up 15% from the previous seven years.”
Necropsies done on 1,000 of the victims, however, found that about 25% drowned after becoming entangled in fishing nets, and about 10% had been hit by ships.
A map of the strandings showed no concentrations in clear proximity to wind farms.
More cause for concern about birds
But while attempts to link whale deaths to wind turbines may be “just a cynical disinformation campaign,” there appears to be much more cause for concern about how offshore wind development may affect birds.
The first major “wind farm” on dry land, 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 by the thousands.
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.
This is believed to have markedly reduced the Altamont toll on birds, but more than 40 years of wind energy industry evasions of accountability for bird and bat losses, in court and out, has meanwhile eroded the credibility of wind power promoters.
“Giant offshore industrial zone”
“Ambitious plans to turn the North Sea into a giant offshore industrial zone mean that thousands of ‘protected’ gannets and gulls will be killed every year by wind turbines,” British environmental journalist and bird advocate Jason Endfield blogged on February 24, 2022.
“The Netherlands government plans to industrialize the North Sea by building thousands of wind turbines, as it attempts to meet goals proposed under the [United Nations] Climate Agreement.
“When Dutch citizens objected to renewable energy projects in their countryside,” Endfield explained, “the government turned its attention to offshore development.
“Plans for 5000 giant turbines in the North Sea have caused alarm,” Endfield continued.
Gulls & gannets
“According to a study by Wageningen University,” Endfield summarized, “an estimated 3,650 gulls and 4,400 northern gannets will perish every year through collision with fast-moving blades, if the target figure of 5000 turbines is achieved.”
Endfield warned that the United Kingdom is “joining the Netherlands in its aspirations to further develop offshore wind farms in the North Sea.
“The U.K. coast is home to more than half of the entire world population of northern gannets,” Endfield concluded, a “species of high conservation concern. These magnificent birds are almost as large as an albatross and can live for many years.
“Meanwhile, many species of gull are experiencing rapid population decline.”
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Endfield is scarcely alone in his concern.
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds principal marine policy officer Gareth Cunningham on October 14, 2020 told Daily Mail reporter Katie Weston, she paraphrased, that “Puffins and other seabirds will be driven to extinction by [then-Conservative Party leader and prime minister] Boris Johnson’s plan to power Britain with ‘limitless’ offshore wind energy by 2030.”
Johnson had “pledged to move at ‘gale force speed’ to make Britain the world leader in offshore wind technology,” Weston summarized.
The Johnson plan called for installing floating turbines around the British coast that would produce 15 times more electricity than what was then the world’s total wind generating capacity, Weston said.
“Moving to cleaner energy should definitely be recommended,” Cunningham said. “It’s just about the way that we get there.”
Craig Pittman is skeptical
But Florida Phoenix columnist Craig Pittman offered a cautionary note a week later in response to a pronouncement similar to Johnson’s from Biden administration interior secretary Deb Haaland.
Haaland, according to The New York Times, “said that her agency will begin to identify, demarcate, and hopes to eventually lease federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine, and off the coasts of the mid-Atlantic States to wind power developers by 2025.”
Pittman, among the senior environmental journalists in the U.S., was skeptical that any such scheme would be practical.
“Smart places & less-smart places”
“NextEra Energy of Juno Beach is the biggest producer of both wind and solar power in the world,” Pittman wrote. “NextEra operates across 37 states and Canada, with wind farms in places like Kansas. But it has zero plans for any wind farms in its home state.”
Recalled Pittman, “’There are smart places to put wind turbines and less-smart places to put wind turbines,’ a NextEra official told the Palm Beach Post in 2012. ‘Florida is a less-smart place due to the lack of wind resources.’
“The bottom line here,” Pittman concluded after exploring wind potential from the barrier islands off the Carolinas to the Gulf of Mexico, “is that Haaland’s bold talk of building wind turbines off nearly every coastline is just a lot of hot air.”
Wind power, to be sure, like hydroelectric dams and nuclear reactors, gained a huge following in the early days of awareness about the ecologically destructive consequences of fossil fuels, for two basic reasons: it mostly uses the centralized grid that already exists, and was an existing technology, whereas passive solar generation from rooftop collectors was more a theory at the time than reality.
But that was 50 years ago. Passive solar from rooftop collectors is here and ready for use practically everywhere, right now.
Before anyone blows any foghorns about how passive solar supposedly doesn’t work in dark northern climates, be aware that ANIMALS 24-7 happens to be located in the very foggy greater Seattle area, where the days are short and gloomy for half of each year.
Rooftop passive solar
The ANIMALS 24-7 team installed a rooftop passive solar system on our 20-year-old otherwise quite ordinary manufactured home two years ago, not at ANIMALS 24-7 expense, that provides about 80% of our total electrical usage, including our all-electric heating using a mini-split heat pump.
Our advertiser Zero Energy Home Plans, which helped with our passive solar installation, has now built or designed hundreds of homes over the past 20 years that are not only 100% ‘zero energy’ using rooftop passive solar systems, but often also produce enough energy surplus to power the owners’ electric cars.
Could rooftop passive solar generating totally replace the use of fossil fuels, nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, and wind power?
Maybe not; but based on what we see right here, on our own rooftop, it could replace quite a lot, with no negative effects on wildlife.