Fact check: Fox News off base on bird collisions
FoxNews.Com carried a story on bird collisions a few days ago with a number of misleading statements. We covered much of the same ground with a response to the Los Angeles Times in early June (see "News story draws questionable conclusions from eagle collisions with old turbines," June 6, 2011), and won't repeat that material at length.
Corrections of some specific items in the Fox piece:
1) The problem of golden eagle collisions with older, smaller, high-RPM wind turbines in Altamont Pass is nothing new, and has been known (and been in the media periodically) since the early 1990s.
2) Even in Altamont Pass, which has a far higher rate of golden eagle losses than any other U.S. wind farm, exhaustive studies have failed to show any impact on the local breeding population (one of the largest in the world).
3) The most probable reason why wildlife agencies have not prosecuted wind farm operators for bird collisions is that, unlike other individuals and companies prosecuted for bird deaths, the wind power industry has proactively worked with the agencies to study the problem and try to find ways to reduce fatalities. Many proposed solutions have been tried in Altamont Pass, from installing anti-perching devices to keep birds from perching on turbines to paint schemes aimed at making the turbine rotor blades more visible. Most recently, the preferred approach has been "repowering"--replacing the old 1980s-vintage turbines with new, larger, lower-RPM machines. In a landmark legal agreement with then-California Attorney General (now Governor) Jerry Brown last December, the largest operator of turbines in Altamont agreed to change out its entire fleet by 2015, and to pay $2.5 million in mitigation fees (something that is oddly omitted from the Fox article).
Stepping back for a moment to look at the larger picture of wind and wildlife, here are some additional important facts to keep in mind:
- Wind power is far less harmful to birds than the fossil fuels it displaces. Incidental losses of individual birds at turbine sites will never be more than an extremely small fraction of bird deaths caused by human activities.
- Wind is the only source of energy that does not present population-level risks to birds, unlike coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric power. Non-renewable energy sources “pose higher risks to wildlife” than renewable sources. Coal–which wind directly replaces–“is by far the largest contributor” to wildlife risks.
- Wind power causes far fewer bird fatalities (under 150,000 a year) than buildings (550 million), power lines (130 million), cars (80 million), poisoning by pesticides (67 million), domestic cats (at least 10 million if not much higher), and radio and cell towers (4.5 million). The largest documented multiple bird mortality event related to wind energy in the U.S. has been 27 birds. Only 4 events involving more than 3 birds at a single turbine have been reported. See "Wind turbine bird threat modest," January 18, 2011, for a summary of an article from a peer-reviewed journal. By contrast, thousands of birds have died in a single night at a single communication tower. Thousands of birds have even died in a single night due to collisions with the chimneys of a single coal-fired power plant.
News story draws questionable conclusions from eagle collisions with old turbines, June 6, 2011
WINDPOWER report: Whooping cranes may avoid wind farms, more research ahead, May 25, 2011
Wind developer launches intensive avian monitoring program, May 23, 2011
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, AWEA, wind developers sign agreement to promote endangered species conservation, April 20, 2011