So sayeth the environmentalists.
Windmills are expensive and inefficient power sources and those reasons alone are why wind power is a hoax. On top of that, they are eyesores — infinitely more numerous and hideous than any oil well or oil drilling platform — or nuclear power plant, my personal favorite source of energy. The blogger at Blue Crab Boulevard is an energy engineer and expert on the topic. He explains why wind energy blows here.
But my biggest problem with “wind energy” has been my common sense intuition that windmills create powerful vortices that kill thousands of birds and insects, or, almost as bad, disorient them. I do not have research yet confirming my intuition about the insects, but I hope it is being done because we depend on bees to pollinate our crops and gardens. Threatening or destroying bees is tantamount to suicide as a society.
Few people have been in a wind powerful enough to let them feel what a bird or insect experiences when it is overpowered by the vortex created by the windmills. However, the same experience is available to anyone who paddles a canoe or kayak in whitewater. For me, one of those experiences came on the Missinaibi River in Ontario, Canada, when I was in my 20’s and joined my father on one of his wilderness expeditions in the purple, orange and white canoes he’d made in our basement out of Kevlar and epoxy. I wanted to paddle a rapids about five miles from Mattice with Dad in a C-2. I was in the bow and just not strong enough to be able to do my part to maneuver the boat and the river grabbed us. Thanks to Dad, we got to a rock where we could pause, read the river and take an easier route. But I will never forget being in the grip of the river’s overwhelming power.
The second occasion was in 1983 when I was paddling the Potomac with a female friend — if I say “girlfriend,” gentle readers, you might read too much into that — and we capsized in a rapids. In decked canoes you have straps over your knees as you kneel in the paddling position so that you can lean or throw your weight to help maneuver the boat. Dad had installed car seat belts for this purpose and my foot got caught in the seat belt. I was underwater getting swept downstream for a considerable time before I could get free. If the rapids had been very long, I might not have made it. THAT is the feeling of being overpowered by a vortex. THAT is what the birds and insects experience — they don’t drown, of course, but they are overpowered, chopped up, injured or disoriented so badly they can’t get food or return to their nests, hives, whatever.
So, environmentalists, tell me: why is killing birds with oil evil, but killing birds AND insects with windmills is not?
Because I’m starting to sense a very ugly agenda behind the mask of environmental idealism — not for everyone, but definitely on the part of too many to dismiss. Specifically, environmentalism is being used as a tool against capitalism — even as a tool against the United States as democracy, when it results in thwarting our using nuclear energy and our own oil and gas and sending us begging to countries that hate us, putting us in their power and putting us in their debt.
The subject came to mind today when I came across a piece published Sept. 7 in the Wall Street Journal by Robert Bryce, managing editor of the Energy Tribune (emphasis mine):
Windmills Are Killing Our Birds: One standard for oil companies, another for green energy sources.
On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.
ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.
Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.
A July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, Calif., estimated that its turbines kill an average of 80 golden eagles per year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, also estimated that about 10,000 birds—nearly all protected by the migratory bird act—are being whacked every year at Altamont.
Altamont’s turbines, located about 30 miles east of Oakland, Calif., kill more than 100 times as many birds as Exxon’s tanks, and they do so every year. But the Altamont Pass wind farm does not face the same threat of prosecution, even though the bird kills at Altamont have been repeatedly documented by biologists since the mid-1990s.
The number of birds killed by wind turbines is highly variable. And biologists believe Altamont, which uses older turbine technology, may be the worst example. But that said, the carnage there likely represents only a fraction of the number of birds killed by windmills. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year. Yet the Justice Department is not bringing cases against wind companies.
“Somebody has given the wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Mr. Fry told me. “If there were even one prosecution,” he added, the wind industry would be forced to take the issue seriously.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry’s trade association, each megawatt of installed wind-power results in the killing of between one and six birds per year. At the end of 2008, the U.S. had about 25,000 megawatts of wind turbines
By 2030, environmental and lobby groups are pushing for the U.S. to be producing 20% of its electricity from wind. Meeting that goal, according to the Department of Energy, will require the U.S. to have about 300,000 megawatts of wind capacity, a 12-fold increase over 2008 levels. If that target is achieved, we can expect some 300,000 birds, at the least, to be killed by wind turbines each year.
On its Web site, the Wind Energy Association says that bird kills by wind turbines are a “very small fraction of those caused by other commonly accepted human activities and structures—house cats kill an estimated one billion birds annually.”* That may be true, but it is not much of a defense. When cats kill birds, federal law doesn’t require marching them to our courthouses to hold them responsible.
During the late 1980s and early ’90s, Rob Lee was one of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s lead law-enforcement investigators on the problem of bird kills in Western oil fields. Now retired and living in Lubbock, Texas, Mr. Lee tells me that solving the problem in the oil fields “was easy and cheap.” The oil companies only had to put netting over their tanks and waste facilities.
Why aren’t wind companies prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds? “The fix here is not easy or cheap,” Mr. Lee told me. He added that he doesn’t expect to see any prosecutions of the politically correct wind industry.
This is a double standard that more people—and not just bird lovers—should be paying attention to. In protecting America’s wildlife, federal law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the harm done by “green” energy.
Mr. Bryce is the managing editor of Energy Tribune. His latest book is “Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of ‘Energy Independence'” (PublicAffairs, 2008).
*I wonder if that is the estimated number of birds killed by all the cats in the world from the beginning of time, all the cats in the U.S. ever, all the cats in the U.S. in one year — or, if that’s a number they pulled out of the air. Whatever, I’m going to have to have a talk with my pusses, because it appears they are WAY behind on their quotas.
I just checked here: there are an estimated 81,721,000 cats in the U.S. in 2007. If every single cat in the U.S. killed 10 birds per year, they still would not meet the claimed number of one billion birds killed, assuming that is a “per year” figure.
Oh, and I have an easy, cheap way of reducing the bird kills by windmills: tear every last one of them down and don’t build any more. Fast track nuclear power plants.