News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

UK Ecologist: 'Wind Farms Driving Birds, Bats to Extinction'

This Scottish bat is threatened by wind energy development, says an Oxford biologist. | Photo: Lee Carson/Flickr/Creative Commons License

This hasn't been a great month so far for wind turbine fans in the United Kingdom. First, a report released just before New Years found that many wind turbines' effective lifespans are much shorter than expected. And this week, a respected British ecologist is slamming the wind industry, saying that wind power is "devastating populations of rare birds and bats across the world, driving some to the point of extinction."

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In an essay that's getting some serious traction in environmentalist circles, Clive Hambler -- a lecturer at Oxford, and author of the Cambridge University Press text "Conservation" -- slams the wind industry in no uncertain terms, saying that the sector's support from environmentalists comes as a result of environmentalists being essentially ignorant of science:

The environmentalists who support such projects do so for ideological reasons. What few of them have in their heads, though, is the consolation of science.

Hambler cites some distressing statistics from sources around the world. Between 6-18 million birds and bats are killed by Spanish wind farms each year Hambler says, including 400 griffon vultures per year just at Navarro. German wind turbines kill at least 200,000 bats per year, depressing populations up to 2,000 miles away. Wind turbines in the U.S. have been estimated to kill 70 bats per installed megawatt per year, on average, says Hambler. That would work out to about 320,000 bats per year in California.

Hambler's assessment of the reasons for wind power's popularity among environmentalists is rather unsparing:

Why is the public not more aware of this carnage? First, because the wind industry (with the shameful complicity of some ornithological organisations) has gone to great trouble to cover it up -- to the extent of burying the corpses of victims. Second, because the ongoing obsession with climate change means that many environmentalists are turning a blind eye to the ecological costs of renewable energy. What they clearly don't appreciate -- for they know next to nothing about biology -- is that most of the species they claim are threatened by 'climate change' have already survived 10 to 20 ice ages, and sea-level rises far more dramatic than any we have experienced in recent millennia or expect in the next few centuries. Climate change won't drive those species to extinction; well-meaning environmentalists might.

Hambler's essay appeared in the British paper The Spectator in a week in which the wind industry was still reeling from a study conducted for the UK's Renewable Energy Foundation that suggests wind turbines in the UK and Denmark have a much shorter productive lifespan that expected. According to the study, which was conducted by researchers at Edinburgh University, many turbines have declined to around 70 percent of their rated output by the time they reach 10 years of service.

Though that study was characterized as misleading by wind energy advocates, it too has gotten some traction, and its defenders are citing California as a cautionary example -- though not without engaging in hyperbole. Murdo Fraser, a Conservative Member of the Parliament of Scotland, described California's desert as a sort of elephants' graveyard of wind turbines in a statement to the Scots newspaper the Courier:

"We already know that the average wind turbine must be in operation for a minimum of two years to pay back the carbon cost of construction," he said. "If the average lifespan of a wind turbine is only 10 years then the Scottish Government must seriously question wind energy's role in displacing carbon emissions. "However, the rapid wear and tear of wind turbines comes as no surprise. We need only cast our eye across the Atlantic to see 12,000 turbines rotting in the Californian desert.

California does have quite a few obsolete wind turbines, and not just in the desert, but their total is probably closer to 3,000 or 4,000.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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First, it should be noted that British government officials rejected the conclusions of the study on wind turbine lifespan. In doing so, they noted, “Britain’s oldest commercial turbines at Delabole in Cornwall have only recently been replaced after 20 years of operation, and the technology has come on in leaps and bounds since that project started generating in 1991.”

To read a full rebuttal of that report visit: http://www.awea.org/blog/index.cfm?customel_dataPageID_1699=20662 .

Also, it is clear that all forms of energy generation have some effect on wildlife and their habitats – wind is no exception. However, the reality is that wind farms have a very limited effect on bird populations relative to other human activities. Wind power is far less harmful to wildlife than the traditional energy sources it displaces.

Based on a recent analysis of publicly available studies conducted at over 100 wind farms, it is estimated that less than 150,000 birds annually are killed by wind power generation. In contrast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations estimate that 100 million to 1 billion birds die in collisions with buildings each year, 60 million or more may be killed by vehicles, and up to 2 million are killed in oil and wastewater pits. The wind industry has further endeavored to lessen its already limited impacts by taking a systematic approach in identifying potential impacts on birds, bats, and other wildlife.

The fact remains that wind’s ability to generate electricity with no air or water pollution, and without generating any hazardous waste, it remains the most benign form of energy production available to our society today.

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Readers can learn from their neighbors to the north about the wind industry. After a wind energy company destroyed a Bald eagle nest a few days ago, people in Canada are wondering how the Ministry of Natural Resources could allow this to happen.

If politician Toby Barrett is really looking for answers as to why "the MNR allowed this to happen”................. I will tell you in one word, corruption.

The MNR is no different than the USFWS, an agency that has been covering for the wind industry for over 28 years. They have done this by giving the industry absurd "Voluntary guidelines", there have been no prosecutions or investigations into their slaughter, they've avoided meaningful studies, and they both hand out PERMITS so this industry can annihilate our wildlife. Bald eagle nest removal is only a small part of all this.
The truth is clear about the MNR and the ongoing collusion with the wind industry. Just look at the response of Ministry of Natural Resources about the dying out whooping crane population. There hasn't been one. Over the last several years over 200 have disappeared from this population after thousands of deadly wind turbines were put along their migration route.
In fact have they even said anything? If they were not covering there would be plenty of media stories and studies to save this endangered species. But there are none as they watch this species disappear from the central flyway. Instead we see the opposite. An agency that is promoting a "Cleaner, Greener Future" with wind turbines and supporting provincial standards which establish for a "streamlined approval process for renewable energy projects." This is not for wildlife, this is not for eagles, this is not for the whooping cranes.......... This is for the wind industry. . There is obvious collusion between the USFWS, the MNR and the wind industry. They both give their flag waving approval and never say a negative word about this terrible industry. While underneath this facade there is a hidden genocide taking place across the world from wind turbines. . I also want to remind everybody reading this that deductive reasoning is real. It is how we got to the moon. We do not need a confession to know what is going on. It is all too obvious that the silence coming from the USFWS and the MNR, has been their admission. The noose is tightening on this corrupt industry. It is now time for these agencies and the politicians to stop pretending. Time to stop giving wind a free pass. There a very real problem with wind, it is being falsely promoted as a solution to our energy needs and is contributing to the destruction our planet.

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Mr. Hambler is absolutely correct, and it is laughably disingenuous for Big Energy apologists to pretend that killing off the raptor and bat populations (for thousands of miles around) won't lead to enormous upsurges in disease vectors such as rodents and mosquitos, among other terrible ecological and human outcomes, while producing embarrassingly minute quantities of power, usually when none is needed. It is further proof of the "ideology, not biology" frame of mind to pretend that all avian species are created equal and proof of a very serious gap in deductive reasoning to suggest that "because billions of birds are being killed, billions more should be killed." Seriously?

Here's a novel idea - lets cover every rooftop with PV and engage in a very serious energy conservation/land conservation movement so we don't need to pretend that Big Wind is something that contributes anything to the grid, our economy or our lives, and stuff it in the "woops, that was stupid" file forever.

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I should also comment on this statement from the AWEA "based on a recent analysis of publicly available studies conducted at over 100 wind farms, it is estimated that less than 150,000 birds annually are killed by wind power generation." I have read over dozens of wind industry studies. None are any good but some are worse than others. Some are so bad they should be investigated by the FBI for fraud. But I have a suggestion for this website. Publish some of these studies and I will expose the flaws in every one of them.

But for a short lessen here is some of what I have found. The Methodology is flawed so the studies do not find near as many carcasses.


I have found that the manipulation of mortality studies can be easily done in a number of ways. 1) By searching turbines that are not operational 2) By searching for bodies in grossly undersized areas around wind turbines 3) By not searching turbines daily which allows more time for bodies to be consumed by predators, hidden by employees, and picked up by leaseholders wanting to protect income 4) By not using trained dogs in searches which could quickly find virtually every carcasses in a large area around each turbine 5) By not allowing turbines that are known to be killing the most birds at bats at a wind farms to be included in mortality studies 6) By avoiding searches during periods of high usage by migrating birds. 7) By not counting mortality wounded birds that have wandered away from turbines. 8) By not counting birds taken to rehab centers which are later euthanized or permanently placed in captivity 9) By hiring industry shills to make sure that wind industry protocol is followed.) By not conducting mortality searches the first year of wind farm operation and 11) By outright lying about problematic data.


In America the AWEA is claiming they are only killing 2.9 birds per MW. The real numbers are at least 10 times higher and could be as much as 50 times higher.

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Kevin O'Rourke uses some carefully crafted language in his above comments, relying on an ever increasingly impatient society content to scan this stuff , rather than engaging in a careful read. Consider these words used such as "it is estimated" and "estimate that between 100 million and 1 billion" . Well there's statistical ( 1000%) certainty if ever there was one. How about, " 60 million or more may be killed" or that "2 million are killed from oil and wastewater pits".
Well a few years ago, Syncrude was fined $3 million for having 1600 ducks land in a tailings pond when their electronic scarecrow system went down. Since turbines have been responsible for even greater avian carnage, why are similar or any fines non-existent? Instead, they apply for "Take permits" to engage in their slaughter of bats and birds.
Kevin's final point about how benign environmentally turbines are, demand rebuttal. Vestas admits to creating 1 ton of toxic waste per turbine blade manufactured. For every 100mw turbine installation,
33 million gallons of poisoned water
600 million pounds of highly contaminated tailings sands
20,000 sq metres of destroyed vegetation.
6 million cubic metres of toxic air pollution
100,000 pounds of radioactive waste.
This along with the fact that wind cannot be relied upon for any meaningful (20%-25% of nameplate capacity) generation , not being able to withstand any cost/ benefit analysis, renders it useless for whatever assigned benefits described by Big Wind and it's self-interested lobby groups.