For some years now, the conventional wisdom has held that wind power is the kinder, gentler energy source, the source that allows the energy producer to be at one with the environment. Instead, it turns out that wind power is a bigger threat to wildlife than any oil well. More than a few wind power producers have found themselves in the role of environmental foe, due to their turbines causing the deaths of countless animals.For instance, a study in 2004 done for the Bonneville Power Administration found that wind turbines on the Altamont Pass in northern California — among the first large-scale wind projects — were responsible for killing 4700 birds each year, including federally protected species such as eagles, owls, and hawks. As a result, environmental groups sued Altamont’s wind power producers. The two groups arrived at a settlement in which the wind power producers agreed to cut bird deaths in half. The settlement isn’t such a great deal for the birds: now the turbines kill only 2350 birds a year!
In addition to birds, more than one endangered bat has met its end at a wind farm. Most recently in September, an endangered bat was killed at Duke Energy Corp.’s North Allegheny wind farm in Pennsylvania. The discovery of the dead bat led the company to temporarily shut off the turbines at night during the bats’ migration season.
Wind power producers are no doubt surprised at their new role of environmental bad guys. A few have hired biologists to regularly examine the fields below the turbine blades for signs of wildlife, so they can make adjustments before the federal government imposes stricter rules. Others have had to give up plans for erecting wind power farms altogether. Pattern Energy intended to build a wind farm near Sacramento, California that would have had 44 wind turbines. However, the company had to shelve those plans after it discovered that despite its best efforts, it could not protect bald eagles and other birds sufficiently. Now Pattern Energy must hunt for new areas where the wildlife would be less bothered by the turbine blades.