The Latest: First federal prosecution of wind farm bird deaths

  • Prong Horn Antelope graze on the prairie at Duke Energy's 99-megawatt Campbell Hill Windpower Project near Casper, Wyoming.

    Duke Energy (CC via Flickr)

Despite their clean-energy appeal, wind farms have a reputation for mowing down birds and bats. Much of the "bird blender" blame rests with one of the first farms, poorly placed on Altamont Pass near San Francisco ("Birds, blades and bats," HCN, 5/02/05). But even with wildlife-friendly siting and better turbine technology, hundreds of thousands of birds, including bald and golden eagles, still perish each year.

Killing most birds, even accidentally, is illegal under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But unlike other energy producers, wind farmers have not been punished – until now. On Nov. 22, Duke Energy pled guilty in the first federal prosecution of wind farm bird deaths and was fined $1 million for the 160 birds, including 14 golden eagles, its Wyoming turbines killed over four years. Duke is now installing radar to warn of incoming eagles. Meanwhile, a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule will extend the five-year permits allowing limited eagle deaths at wind farms to 30 years.

Kirk Hohenberger
Kirk Hohenberger Subscriber
Dec 23, 2013 05:16 PM
A far greater slaughter of eagles, and protected birds of prey, occurs every day. Thousands and thousands a year, raptor electrocutions on our powerlines.The industry and the USFW service who enforces the MBTA that protects birds has known about the problem, what ,and how they get electrocuted,for over forty years.The types of poles that kill. And yet the USFW service does not enforce the law, if and i mean if, a dead hawk is found, no law requires anyone to report it, and nobody checks the lines, a out of sight out of mind reality, then it must mean it is not happening, everything is fine. But if someone finds a dead hawk and reports it, as i did, the enforcement agent just goes out and warns the utility. They know this game, that nothing will really ever happen, so they band-aid the problem , fix a couple bad poles and the government is happy. Meanwhile they continue to install new lines that they know will kill anything that lands there. Uninsulated transformer jumper lines, one of the many. You can count on one hand the utilities that have been fined. We are taught in this country, the law is the law, it is fair and just. It is not, another illusion, the enforcement people can chose who they are going to cite or enforce the law on. If you as a individual kill a eagle, or even have a feather, you will be cited.Yet a electric industry that kills thousands, goes about their business as usual. There are known easy ways to install all knew lines that are safe for raptors,but no law requires them to do this. Because the USFW service chooses not to their job and enforce the laws on the books and fine the utilities, they can look the other way. There are fixes to this problem ,which kills far more eagles then wind mills, the fix for wind mills may be much harder.Shouldn't we prioritize first the activity that causes the greatest harm, that has the easiest solution ,and fix that problem first, that would have the greatest positive impact.
Charles Fox
Charles Fox Subscriber
Dec 27, 2013 10:21 AM
Prosecutions for the killing of federally protected species are long overdue.
mark teders
mark teders
Dec 28, 2013 08:39 AM
If you Google how many birds are killed by powerlines and communication towers every year the USFWS estimates 55 million. I'm not sure this includes cell phone towers or wind turbine. We have raised a generation consumed by electronics. I have had a fourteen year old tell me she would rather die than do without her
phone. Good-bye birds.
mark teders
mark teders
Dec 28, 2013 08:42 AM
If you Google how many birds are killed by powerlines and communication towers every year the USFWS estimates 55 million. I'm not sure this includes cell phone towers or wind turbine. We have raised a generation consumed by electronics. I have had a fourteen year old tell me she would rather die than do without her
phone. Good-bye birds.
Stephen Sykes
Stephen Sykes
Dec 31, 2013 03:50 PM
If you want to bring other sources of ridiculously high bird deaths into the discussion, lets talk cats. All of the above mentioned deaths pale in comparison to the estimated numbers of birds killed by domestic cats. At least wind farms and power lines provide some tangible benefit to us humans.
Jerry Nolan
Jerry Nolan Subscriber
Dec 31, 2013 03:53 PM
We're just getting started with wind. Last year about 3 percent of our total U.S. electricity was generated by wind. What happens when we generate 20% or more of U.S. electricity with wind? Also lots of long power lines will be needed to carry the power from good wind sites to the cities where power is needed. And to replace one large coal, gas, or nuclear plant (1,800 megawatts) requires about 169 square miles of land for wind turbines not counting the power lines from the site to the city. Meanwhile, nuclear has been generating about 20% of total U.S. electricity need for 30 plus years and has not killed or harmed a single bird, animal, or person. Nuclear can generate 1,800 megawatts on 2 acres of land. No one was killed at Fukushima and only hysteria and ignorance keep people from moving back to their homes. Chernobyl killed about 70 people. The evacuated lands are thriving with wild life and a few illegal people who snuck back to their homes. How many people have been killed in airline crashes? Do we stop flying? How many people killed in car crashes? Do we stop driving? No. But we're building wind turbines, and we stopped building nuclear plants for 30 years since the harmless Three Mile Island incident and the scare movie China Syndrome.
Stephen Willis
Stephen Willis Subscriber
Jan 01, 2014 05:19 AM
New smaller wind generators without moving blades are being designed for on site electricity generation. So, two problems are being solved at once. Locally produced, the eliminate the need for long transmission lines and allow small towns to connect as Nodes in a Grid, and non-moving wind generators don't kill any birds, unlike the huge blades on the current generation of wind farms. One example:
Doug Pineo
Doug Pineo Subscriber
Jan 09, 2014 02:52 PM
Wind farms are like all capital-intensive, centrally located electrical power generating facilities, whether hydropower, or the array of thermal varieties, including coal, natural gas and nuclear. They are generally located away from the markets where most of the power is generated, so require the vast grid of transmission lines. These lines are maintained with nothing taller than small shrubs in the corridor. Not only do the lines themselves kill migrating geese and whooping cranes among other birds, the cleared corridors of the rights of way have resulted in the destruction of millions of acres of former forest habitat nationally, and even fragment habitats in the West's grasslands and shrub-steppes. Petroleum and natural gas pipelines similarly destroy large swaths of former native habitats, and ecologically impoverish the remaining fragments. These corridors are often maintained with herbicides. Pipeline corridors are kept pretty much like billiard tables, so they can be monitored for leaks by aircraft, when they could be patrolled by someone on foot or horseback instead. Eight percent to 22% of generated power is lost in transmission, compounding the felony. The power utilities and energy companies hide behind the fig leaf of regulations governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Virtually no one in authority or at the corporate levers thinks or articulates about distributive models of generating electricity, as Stephen Willis describes above.

Especially because of the need for reliable base load, using electrical energy will never be without environmental impacts. Yet, it's ironic that moving toward a distributive model would result in major efficiencies, and the sort of resiliency Thomas Jefferson envisioned, before the electric era. No more brownouts or blackouts.

If you had a fuel cell on your patio next to the heat pump, powered by hydrogen, you wouldn't worry about wind storms cutting off your power. Or maybe there's one servicing your neighborhood, or small town, using the existing local distribution lines. Store the hydrogen tanks underground. Thousands of people store propane in buried tanks at their homes right now. Private utilities could lease residential fuel cells, serviced by crews driving hydrogen-powered vans. We could crack our hydrogen from seawater with good old-fashioned hydrolysis. A few nuke or solar plants here and there to crack your hydrogen, and distributed on the existing rail and high way system. Not free of impacts, but safer by far than our current use of this infrastructure to transport crude oil. Linemen would still be needed, utility company stockholders would still receive their dividends. Old transmission line towers could be recycled into rebar for wildlife overpasses across rail lines and the Interstate workers would need to be hired to build all those overpasses, land formerly unavailable for hunting would become wildlife habitat again...Jason and Brittany could still tweet each other and watch cat videos on their devices. Bats and birds could migrate with fewer obstacles.

I wrote the Rocky Mountain Institute a while back, supposedly major energy policy titans that they are. I asked as politely as possible if I must be wearing a tinfoil pyramid to wonder about the legitimacy of a distributive power model, and inquired why they don't articulate a position on its prospect. Crickets, nuthin'. Ever notice how some people won't talk to you unless you give them money?