Wind turbines, it turns out, unsurprisingly, have serious impacts on the environment that a whole lot of people are trying to ignore as they subsidize them.
Studies have found that wind turbines are a dangerous threat to bats, high-conservation value birds, and insect populations that are a major supply of food to bats and birds. Insects, birds, bats, and wind farm developers are attracted to the same thing—high wind speeds. Wind farms in Europe and the United States are being built in the path of migration trails that have been used by insects and birds for millions of years.
Researchers have found wind turbines in Germany resulted in a loss of about 1.2 trillion insects of different species each year. Researchers in India have found almost four times fewer buzzards, hawks, and kites in areas with wind farms—a loss of about 75 percent. They have found wind turbines are akin to adding a top predator to the ecosystem, killing off birds, but allowing small animals to increase their populations resulting in a trickle effect throughout the ecosystem.
Migratory Bats and Birds
Wind turbines are the single greatest human threat to migratory bats, which live in different habitats during summer and winter months. Some, like the hoary bat, fly south to Mexico during the winter as insects become scarce in North America. In 2017, scientists warned that the hoary bat could become extinct if the expansion of wind farms continues.
Wind turbines have also become one of the greatest human threats to many species of large, threatened and high-conservation value birds. Wind energy threatens golden eagles, bald eagles, burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks, white-tailed kites, peregrine falcons, and prairie falcons, among others. The expansion of wind turbines could result in the extinction of the golden eagle in the western United States, where its population is at a very low level.
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru studied lizard and bird populations at three wind turbine sites. In areas without turbines around 19 birds were spotted every three hours, while only five were sited nearer the turbines. The lower rate of predatory birds led to an abundance of the fan-throated lizard. The lower number of predatory birds has a “ripple effect” across the food chain with small mammals and reptiles increasing in number as their natural predators disappear and changing their behavior as they become less fearful of predators.
Deaths of big birds have a greater impact on their population than smaller birds because they have lower reproductive rates. For example, golden eagles will have only one or two baby chicks at most once a year while robins could have three to seven baby chicks as often as twice a year.
For three decades, scientists have reported the build-up of dead insects on wind turbine blades in different regions around the world. Researchers in Germany found a 76 percent decline in flying insect biomass in conducting a 27-year population monitoring study. Wind turbines are contributing to what is called the “insect die-off.” The German insect death toll from wind turbines of 1.2 trillion per year is one-third of the total annual insect migration in southern England.
Insect die-off also reduces the efficiency of the wind turbines. In 2001, researchers calculated that the build-up of dead insects on wind turbine blades can reduce the electricity they generate by 50 percent.
In the 1990s, the wind industry claimed its turbine blades were too high to threaten flying insects and that insects flew too slowly to be impacted. Since then, it has been found that insects cluster at the same altitudes used by wind turbines. Scientists in Oklahoma found that the highest density of insects is between 150 to 250 meters, which overlaps with large turbine blades that stretch from 60 to 220 meters above the ground.
While government agencies require the oil and gas industry to report bird deaths and pay fines for any found, wind farms are exempt, even though the wildlife impacts can be far greater. Wind developers are allowed to self-report violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wind developers can avoid prosecution for killing eagles by applying for licenses to cover the number of birds who might be struck by their wind turbines. In rare circumstances when governments require the wind industry to mitigate the impact of bird deaths, such as by setting aside land elsewhere, there is often little or no enforcement.
Curtailing wind energy by halting the turbine blades is the only way to reduce the killing of birds, bats and insects by wind turbines. Scientists have found that curtailing wind turbines when wind speed is low can reduce bat fatalities by 44 percent to 93 percent. However, very few wind farm developers are willing to curtail their wind production. An NREL study found that curtailment levels are lower than 5 percent of total wind energy generation.
Wind developers and operators should not be given a free rein to kill birds, bats, and insects and to disrupt the ecosystem. They should be held accountable for these deaths and be fined as any other industry. The problem will only get worse as more wind farms are forced onto the grid as state mandates for renewable energy are achieved.
Editor’s Note: Coincidentally with posting this, I received a lead from one of our many New York State readers bringing this article to my attention and it had some interesting background on a wind project about to be crammed down the throats of Guilford residents:
Rarely has there been this much interest in a Town of Guilford land use plan.
But now residents are ever more watchful. So much so that more than 80 residents piled into the town hall meeting room on Wednesday night to hear town board members mull updates on a comprehensive plan for this rural Chenango County community.
Four rows of chairs were filled. Other spectators sat shoulder to shoulder, perched on tables in the rear of the cozy setting, and those who didn’t arrive early enough to grab a seat lined the sides of the meeting room.
Clearly, this was not your ordinary town board meeting to discuss the often tedious details of zoning.
What brought the crowd to this meeting was a plan by Calpine Corp.’s to build a 100-megawatt, 30-turbine industrial wind power installation within this town of 3,000 people about eight miles northwest of Sidney. A 100-megawatt project supplies enough electricity to power about 36,000 homes.
The preliminary scoping plan was submitted by the Houston-based energy company in late January. Early details of the project mirror a 27-turbine, 123-megawatt wind power installation by the same sponsor in the eastern Broome County towns of Windsor and Sanford. That project is well ahead of the Guilford plan, with the state expected to rule on construction by the end of the year.
New York has more then 20 large-scale solar and wind projects across the state under some form of regulatory review. The run to build renewable power installations has been fueled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal to have 70% of the state’s electric demand — about 32,000 megawatts at the summer peak — generated by carbon-neutral sources by 2030. The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority provides financial incentives to sponsor, but the amounts to specific projects are not disclosed by the state, citing proprietary corporate information as reason for exemption from release.
When updated, the Guilford comprehensive plan will serve as a guide for the state panel reviewing the Calpine project. Ultimately, the state electric generation siting board — composed of Cuomo-appointed state commissioners — has final say on all energy generation project larger than 25 megawatts.
The 100 megawatts and 36,000 homes is a joke, of course. Wind energy never performs to capacity, seldom achieving even half and more likely a quarter of its theoretical capacity. And, the whole thing is subsidized so much the state doesn’t even dare reveal how much! Worse, as the article notes, it is the state that will decide; home rule has been thrown to the wind on this one, in contrast to natural gas. Environmental concerns are likewise being dismissed, although, as one Daily Star letter writer notes; “
In areas of New York where much shorter wind turbines were installed there have been complaints of headaches, nausea, seizures and sleepless caused by the infrasound and flicker these turbines produce. Residents also complain about the loss of sight views during the day and of the blinking red lights at night ruining the night sky. There are also reports of deer and other game animals leaving the area bringing an end to hunting and trapping, recreational use of the land and tourism.
People wishing to leave the area in order to escape these effects have not been able to sell their homes and have been forced to sell to the wind companies at a loss.
What does all this mean? It means a lot of Upstate New York residents view industrial energy as a clear and present danger to the environment, just as those German and other studies have found.