The Grid Optimization Blog

Duke Energy Wind Farm Bird-Kill: Gort Meets Bambi?

Wind farm bird kills are nothing new. But until now no one's pushed prosecution because birds and wind turbines are both protected by environmental advocacy. That creates a dilemma.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. As reported by the Associated Press on 11/23/2013, a major wind farm owner was prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds:

Duke Energy Corp.…" pleaded guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at its Top of the World and Campbell Hill wind farms outside Casper, Wyo. All the deaths, which included golden eagles, hawks, blackbirds, wrens and sparrows, occurred from 2009 to 2013."

This was the first enforcement of environmental laws protecting birds against wind energy facilities but it won't be the last, as the article continues:

"The Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating 18 bird-death cases involving wind-power facilities, and about a half-dozen have been referred to the Justice Department."

As expected, there was a consequent statement from at least one environmental group:

"Wind energy is not green if it is killing hundreds of thousands of birds," said George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy, which supports properly sited wind farms. "The unfortunate reality is that the flagrant violations of the law seen in this case are widespread."

And of course, the American Wind Energy Association had a response:

"No form of energy generation, or human activity for that matter, is completely free of impacts, and wind energy is no exception."

As obvious as that last statement seems, the truth of its content is mostly ignored when it comes to "green energy" sources. We've known for some time that the over-manufacturing of cheap solar panels has led to draining the earth's recoverable supply of precious metals and increases pollutants, including greenhouse gases. See PV Solar Dilemma: Energy Cannibalism Meets Energy Accounting 

And we've known for some time that wind turbines kill birds – there are even several YouTube videos showing the collisions. So what we have here is another case where technology abrasively impacts the environmental ideal. That ideal being a utopia where Bambi and his mother are in no danger from hunters or other humans and their machines.  

But although documented bird kills have gone on for decades, this is the first legal action that's been taken. That's because this time the "machines", the human intrusion on virgin, central plains, are also seen as part of the solution to preserving the earth's environment. 

Several times over the years I've seen the old sci-fi movie, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) and I'm amazed how relevant (and subtle) the plot is for today. I don't have room to go into it. So go rent it and enjoy. But I will tell you that the show portrays humans as destructive to themselves and to the earth. An alien, with his robot Gort, reluctantly chooses not to destroy the humans and return the earth to its natural state. But he does destroy the capability of humans having electric power, forever. And then he returns home.

The movie leaves the message that technology can destroy. But it can paradoxically be constructive to preserving quality of life for all creatures. The show also implies that the earth, the Bambi forest at least, is better off if humans don't have electric power. Hmmm…that could be true.

In any case it will be fascinating to watch as Duke and others apply technology to resolve the wind-turbine/bird-kill issue.


Discuss this Blog Entry 5

on Dec 16, 2013

This isn't the only area where trying to resolve multiple dangers to the environment results in paradoxes and conflicts. An increasing number of environmental groups are split over nuclear power as a tool to fight climate change. Danged if you do, danged if you don't!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 17, 2013

It will be absorbed as the cost of doing business.

on Dec 18, 2013

The article seemed to mix the silly with the serious.

"We've known for some time that the over-manufacturing of cheap solar panels has led to draining the earth's recoverable supply of precious metals and increases pollutants, including greenhouse gases". opposed to the under manufacturing of high quality products? The cells in PV panels can be recycled almost 100%. The links to other articles discussed EROI, and the hypothesis put forward was that PV has a low EROI - sadly this was based on early experience in Spain (2006). Furthermore EROI is a function of insolation. Location with high levels of insolation (e.g. 2000kWhrs/kWp/year) will give a much better EROI (1 year payback used in energy for mfu) than those with low (e.g. 900kWhr/kWp). In addition there is no particular reason why one would need to build roads etc for a PV installation. I have seen 5MWp installation in, for example, the South of France, located next to a road (= civils very small part of project)

I'm currently working on some PV projects with an LCOE of 5 to 6 eurocents and an EROI of 1 year - what's not to like?. In the case of wind, there is a high concentration of WTs in Scotland, yet the deaths of many winged predators are mostly attributable to game keepers poisoning them (this allows rich dolts to shoot more grouse). WTs at least in Scotland have minimal impact on airborne wildlife.

I see wrens were also mentioned as being victims of WTs. I have wrens in my garden those familiar with wren habitats (undergrowth and trees etc) will thus be wondering what a wren is doing in an open field and 100 meters above the ground. & thus some of the arguments put forward in the article disintegrated before my eyes. These points are put forward from a European point of view - perhaps things are different in the USA.

on Dec 24, 2013

All great comments, as I have learned to expect from you! However, your statements seem to mix up the ideal with the actual. True, PV cells can be recycled almost 100% But ARE THEY? And roads don't always need to be built to a PV station. But they USUALLY ARE.

And, you might want to check out the habits of wrens. Those little guys migrate long distances - both in your country and over here. And I suspect that their migration flight height would take them well into the lethal range of the wind turbines.

on Dec 20, 2013

The world is replete with gadgets, gizmos and methods for harmlessly repelling birds in flight. Larger birds are more difficult and most birds acclimate to all manner of repelling interference, but the mavens have the answers to vastly reducing bird turbine collisions.

One of the issues for environmental impact analysis is to evaluate why the birds may be frequenting a potential wind farm site, as opposed to just passing through. If the site is an active or potential seasonal or annual food source, then the problem becomes more complicated, but, still resolvable with some clever development and/or off-site relocation of that which brings the birds to the site.

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Paul earned his B.S. and an M.S. in electrical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley and is a registered professional engineer. He has worked in the energy industry for more than...
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