As I reported yesterday, a proposed wind farm near Cape Cod cleared a major hurdle when the US Minerals Management Service issued a favorable report in their Draft
Environmental Impact Statement.
The agency indicated that, in nearly all of the issues they studied, the project would have minimal impacts. The report did say that some birds would have “moderate” impacts, but that those problems could be mostly mitigated. Believe it or not, the only “major” impact cited in the MMS report was the view from boats. You can judge for yourself how those turbines might look by taking a look at the image above, which is a simulated view of the turbines from Nantucket created by the Cape Wind folks (link to more below). It seems to me that if the only major problem with the project is based on… …a subjective interpretation of wind turbines as aesthetically objectionable, that there should be very little standing in the way of this project. But, unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy.
Early reactions to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement:
“Expensive renewable energy projects with risks to safety, the environment, and the local economy like Cape Wind, fail to meet the standards for federal approval defined by Congress.” – Glenn Wattley of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound
“They have done an adequate and thorough job of reviewing the potential environmental impacts with regard to avian life.” – Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government relations for Massachusetts Audubon
“At first blush, it looks like they really glossed over a lot. I feel it’s a grave error to charge ahead and make another mistake on a decision that carries so much weight as a precedent. … It’s clear the push is on … but do it where it doesn’t have an impact on the fisheries. You don’t have to displace fish and fishermen to have alternative energy. That’s a false choice.” – David Bergeron, Executive Director, Massachusetts Fisherman’s Partnership
“With public opinion demanding that our leaders provide greater energy independence and tackle climate change. I am confident that this project will move forward and provide significant benefit to citizens in this region.” – Jim Gordon, President of Cape Wind Associates.
“I am pleased to see the federal government moving forward on the review process for this important project. Publication of the draft federal environmental impact statement is a significant step for this project and indeed for renewable energy more broadly.” -Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick
The Boston Globe
The Cape Cod Times
Clean Power Now
Cape Wind (simulated views)
Are there any statistics on what wind farms and their impact on birds — is it significant, are there any possible deterrents for birds (besides death…)?
Timothy B. Hurst
Noelle, good question. The simple answer – it depends.
There are plenty of studies that have attempted to measure the impacts of wind turbines on birds. One of the most often cited studies, which was conducted on Altamont Pass in California in the late 80s and early 90s showed that the smaller turbines with much faster rotor speeds had a devastating impact on raptors (Orloff and Flannery 1992). There is no doubt that the older turbines like those featured at Altamont can essentially be Cuisinarts for birds. Not to mention the fact that these older turbines used tower structures that birds were able to nest in – these structures have been nearly eliminated in favor of the single pole.
A much more recent Danish study investigated the impact of wind farms on migratory patterns and showed that less than 1% of the ducks and geese migrated close enough to the turbines to be at any risk of collision (Desholm and Kahlert 2005).
The wind energy industry has worked very hard to address avian wildlife issues and to shake their image as bird-processors.
It is my understanding that the bigger issue in terms of effects on wildlife is actually with bats (onshore only). Bat sonar can be disrupted by the sweeping turbine blades and they have been shown to actually pursue the blades, mistaking them for prey.
The condition of Mass Audubon’s “support” for Cape Wind, a project they are reviewing, is agency acceptance of Adaptive Management monitoring and mitigation. The problem here is that this represents an undisclosed future service contract for multi-millions of dollars, paid by the developer, if Cape Wind is constructed.
The service? Count Cape Wind produced bird carcasses over water, using the “kill then count” method. But, the federal regulator with purview over the endangered species of Nantucket Sound under the ESA Section 7 process, states in their comments to MMS on the draft EIS that the technology “simply does not exist” to count bird carcasses over water.
On the Cape Wind MMS draft EIS:
“They have done an adequate and thorough job of reviewing the potential environmental impacts with regard to avian life.” – Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government relations for Massachusetts Audubon.”
USFWS is the federal regulator speaking on the MMS Cape Wind draft EIS:
April 21, 2008, US FWS provided to Dr. Cluck, Cape Wind Project Manager of MMS, this statement in their comments on the Cape Wind MMS DEIS that indicate it is impossible to reduce harm to wildlife, post-construction, Cape Wind by Adaptive Management:
“The current framework that MMS is proposing would forgo refinement of pre-construction study protocols and set in motion an adaptive management process that would be doomed to failure because effective techniques to perform post-construction monitoring simply do not exist.”
Mass Audubon’s brass has sold out the birds in exchange for an undisclosed contract, (worth approximately $8 million over the term prescribed by MA Audubon’s “Challenge” press releass), to count their carcasses caused by Cape Wind in an endangered species habitat, “beginning at construction”.
Avian advocate Mark Duchamp of Spain
May I please offer expert opinion on birds being killed by wind turbines:
“I am one of six scientific advisory committee members to Minerals Management Service, and Chair of their Subcommittee on Alternative and Renewable Energy, dealing with offshore wind as well as current and wave generation. I am on the National Wind Coordinating Committee of the Department of Energy. I have spoken at great length with Allison Taber, Dick Viet, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and others conducting the bird surveys in Nantucket Sound and offshore. I have spoken many times with Ian Nisbet and have visited the tern colonies in Buzzard’s Bay. I reviewed the MMS PEIS for Cape Wind, and many other publications for California Energy Commission, the Wildlife Society, and NWCC. I have reviewed all of the aerial surveillance data from FWS for offshore birds, going back to 1970. I have co-chaired a symposium on wind and wildlife at the National Council for Science and the Environment in Washington DC in January 2008. ABC co-sponsored a national meeting with NWCC on wind and birds in 2004, and I have been on the scientific review committee for presentations at the last 3 annual research meetings of the NWCC. I am a consultant for the World Bank on siting of wind projects in Latin America to insure appropriate protections for wildlife.”
“We may never know what the magnitude of the problem will be at Cape Wind, because the monitoring planned for the project is inadequate. The radar studies conducted by Cape Wind were inadequate. The Fish and Wildlife Service review of the project and of MMS PEIS was quite critical.
Until there is a national regulatory framework and guidelines for siting and operations of wind projects, the dialog will be driven by emotions rather than facts.”
“1) The mortality at Altamont Pass has increased with larger, modern turbines, not decreased. The 2007 report for the California Energy Commission by the industry confirms this. Efforts to reduce mortality to conform with the agreements made with Alameda County have not been successful. The research biologist Shawn Smallwood at Davis, CA has an enormous amount of data and several published papers.
2) The collision mortality at both Horns Rev and Nysted in Denmark have not been determined. The Danes have not been able to assess collisions, because most of the carcasses cannot be recovered from the wind project areas. They are in the sea, after all. The Horns Rev wind project is 6 X 8 Km, an area of 18.5 square miles, or 11,840 acres. Even if they had crews continuously patrolling the wind project, which they do not, they could not observe or collect more than a fraction of the dead birds that might fall into the ocean. The radar work of Mark Desholm and others does indicate that many birds avoid the wind farms, but they have very little information on the number of collisions. The resolution of the radar is insufficient to determine whether birds approaching the wind project collide with or avoid the first row of turbines. The radar images produced by the monitoring have radar tracks that are hand-drawn from tracings of radar screens and birds disappearing from the radar at the edge of the wind farm are not quantified. Weather that confounds bird’s ability to detect turbines also confounds radar detection of collisions, and prevents boats from patrolling the area. Therefore there is a lack of data for the most important time intervals for collisions.
3) Large wind turbines appear to turn slowly, and usually turn at 15-19 rpm. However, the turbine blades are 40-44 m in length (131-144 feet), and the tip speed is usually between 160 and 195 mph. This is like trying to cross the tracks in front of an approaching bullet train. The tip of the rotor travels at 250-280 feet per second. The appearance of slow-moving blades deceives birds in the same way it deceives people watching them. ”
Director of Conservation Advocacy
American Bird Conservancy
1731 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20009
Subject: House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Oversight Hearing on “Going, Going, Gone? An Assessment of the Global Decline in Bird Populations”
Held: Thursday, July 10, 2008, at 10:00 a.m.
Testimony (excerpt only):
George Wallace, PhD
Vice President for International Programs
American Bird Conservancy
“Last year, my colleague at ABC, Dr. Michael Fry presented testimony to the full Committee on the ongoing impact of commercial wind energy production. While the actual number of birds killed by wind turbines is unknown, estimates have been made in the range of 30,000 to 60,000 birds per year at the current level of wind development. However, the wind industry is prepared to increase the number of turbines 30 fold over the next 20 years in order to fulfill the President’s request that renewable energy projects supply 20% of the nation’s energy needs by 2030. At the current estimated mortality rate, the wind industry will be killing 900,000 to 1.8 million birds per year. While this number is a relatively small percentage of the total number of birds estimated to live in North America, many of the bird species being killed are already declining for other reasons, and losses of more than a million birds per year would exacerbate these declines.
ABC recommends that any renewal of the production tax credit by Congress include provisions that require minimizing bird and bat kills by wind projects, and require developers to follow standard Best Management Practices in avoiding and minimizing bird and wildlife impacts in order to qualify for the full, taxpayer-provided subsidy.”
Cape Wind is a set up for immitigable harm to endangered species.