Fowl Play: Wind Farms Unfairly Targeted by Fossil Fuel Industry

This blog entry was written by Allie Brown, former Clean Energy Advocacy Manager at SACE.

Guest Blog | November 5, 2013 | Energy Policy, Wind
Courtesy: TN Valley Infrastructure Group

As addressed in an earlier post, wind energy does not cause population level threats to birds and accounts for an extremely small percentage of unnatural avian mortality. In fact, wind energy (void of air and water pollution) is considered to be one of the lowest-impact electricity resources. Even though major bird conservation groups and ornithological experts recognize the importance of a wind energy future, bird impacts with wind turbines remains a major talking point for wind power opponents. So, who is behind this misinformation campaign against wind energy and why?

It might come as no surprise that many anti-renewable energy studies and articles are funded by fossil fuel power lobbyists. The American wind industry’s recent cost-competitive success caused it to become the number one source of new U.S. electric generating capacity in 2012 (now representing over 60,000 megawatts of energy). Last year, The Guardian released a confidential memo providing evidence that fossil-fuel funded groups were strategizing together to build a movement of wind energy farm protestors here in the United States. William I. Koch, billionaire investor in the fossil fuel industry, has spent over a decade protesting the Cape Wind project by spending over $5 million in an attempt to derail the project.

In an effort to fuel a movement against wind energy, many articles have surfaced that overstate the impacts wind turbines have on birds regardless of the facts. Last year the Washington Times published a misleading column by Paul Driessen of the Committee for Construction Tomorrow–a fossil-fuel funded group dedicated to disputing climate science. Deep pockets are fueling this misinformation surrounding wind turbines and birds in order to deter from the reality: fossil fuels are the greater energy threat to bird populations and could cause global extinctions.

A study in Energy Policy, found that  fossil-fueled power plants, on a per unit of energy basis, are estimated to kill 17 times more birds than wind energy. So for every megawatt hour of electricity from a wind farm that replaces fossil fuels, seventeen times as many birds may be saved. Another study provided by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority looked at six electricity generation types and their impacts on vertebrate wildlife. The research concluded that wind energy does not create a population-level threat to birds and, “non-renewable electricity generation sources, such as coal and oil, pose higher risks to wildlife than renewable electricity generation sources, such as hydro and wind.”

Source: NYSERDA 2009

The dirty extraction process (not necessary with wind energy) associated with fossil fuel mining is one of the major causes of avian mortality. Coal mining creates a great threat to bird populations due to major habitat loss. According to the American Bird Conservancy, there were 1,200 mines found in the  Appalachia region from 1992-2002 and “…380,574 acres of forest habitat were destroyed for the purpose of mountaintop removal…”

Oilfield production is another threat to birds. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, “every year an estimated 500,000 to 1 million birds are killed in oilfield production skim pits, reserve pits, and in oilfield wastewater disposal facilities…” Over 1,500 migrating ducks were recently killed when they landed in a pollutant-filled reservoir linked to an Alberta oil sands facility.

Coal, oil, and other fossil fuel energy sources have major individual impacts on bird populations, but together these carbon-emitting fuels are the major driver of climate change–one of the greatest threats to bird populations according to a study by the National Wildlife Federation. The majority of American conservancy organizations recognize the link between fossil fuel energy and the impact global warming could have on bird populations across the country.

The Audubon Society concludes,

“Most of today’s rapidly growing demand for energy is now being met by natural gas and expanded coal-burning power plants, which are this country’s single greatest source of the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming. If we don’t find ways to reduce these emissions, far more birds–and people–will be threatened by global warming than by wind turbines.” 

With this overwhelming evidence that fossil fuels are causing great damage to bird populations, it’s no wonder that the fossil fuel industry is desperate to point the finger somewhere else.

Wind energy, on the other hand, is a 100% clean energy source that is far less harmful to birds than the energy it displaces. In 2012, the electricity generated by wind energy helped to avoid 98.9 million metric tons of C02–equivalent to taking 17.4 million cars off the road. Looking past the anti-wind rhetoric and fossil fuel funded bias, it’s clear that wind energy has the opportunity to save more birds than it harms by displacing traditional energy sources and creating a healthier and cleaner environment.

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