Green Energy Kills Birds


While this is a somewhat old story to free-market environmentalist types, the Los Angeles Times today reports on the dangers posed to birds by wind-turbine energy production. A wind turbine complex in the Altamont pass east of San Francisco has killed an estimated 22,000 birds,

including hundreds of golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, kestrels and other raptors, after flying into the spinning blades of the wind turbines.

Now, some environmental groups that routinely supported wind power as a clean, alternative source of electric power are opposing the renewal of permits for the wind farm until steps are taken to reduce the bird deaths.

Of course, as the article goes on to point out, wind turbines are relatively low on the list of threats to American avians. Still, it's an interesting reminder of the sometimes not-obvious secondary and tertiary effects of seemingly environmentally conscious choices.

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  1. What is the alternative? Is there ANY new power generation that enviromental groups will approve? They seem to be all anti-growth NIMBY Luddites, romanticizing the hard times of the pre-modern society as the “Simple Life”.

  2. It’s true.

    Turns out that turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth in order to conserve water is a sure way to give yourself tounge cancer.

  3. Can’t they just put up plastic grills to protect the birds, like the ones mandated to cover indoor fans?

  4. Denmark reportedly gets 18% of its electrical power from wind farms, and I haven’t heard any animal groups grousing about them? Perhaps they aren’t squaking loud enough, eh?

  5. To me this is a benifit. I’ll be able to wash my car less often. Maybe we need to take a second look at wind power.

  6. Maybe we could burn the dead birds for energy?

  7. “including hundreds of golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, kestrels and other raptors”

    But these mean and nasty raptors kill other poor, innocent, defenceless birds… so really, by killing them we’re saving the lives of many more birds.

  8. The humurous part is that I read that the little rodents that the birds eat LOVE to hang out around the windmills – it’s the safest place to be. And so they just serve as more predator bait for the windmills.

  9. Check out some facts Brian:

    Avian Fatalities per Year
    (average estimates)

    Buildings: 500,000,000
    Power Lines:87,000,000
    Communication towers:27,000,000
    Wind turbines:25,000
    Total: 684,025,000

    Source: Wally Erickson, et al; “Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A Summary of Existing Studies and Comparisons to Other Sources of Avian Collision Mortality in the United States.” National Wind Coordinating Committee, August, 2001

    According to the study by Erickson wind turbines actually account for .0036 percent of the bird fatalities surveyed, yet every group opposed to wind turbines focuses on the possibility of massive bird fatalities. A cynic might conclude that the avian issue is a diversionary tactic for typical aesthetic issues that drive the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) crowd.

    And this study did not include the huge impact of domestic cats on avaian populations. Opponents to wind power should be up in arms opposing buildings, vehicles, cell towers and pet cats if they really care about birds. But really they are just hypocritical self serving NIMBYs, like most opponents to progress.

    It is disheartening to see Reason encouraging and supporting such foolishness. For the last ten years, wind has been the fastest growing energy sector in the world and the technology that holds the most promise to help us maintain a prosperous economy and at the same time help free us from dependence on mid-east oil.


  10. I, for one, would be happy for the U.S. to follow France’s lead and switch to nuclear, but oppose wind-farming, because while one wind farm isn’t that much of a threat, a few hundred will look like DDT all over again.

    Supposedly newer ones don’t do as much damage, turning at slower speeds, but I haven’t seen definitive studies to the effect.

    If they could be done in a way that isn’t an Avian Quisinart, I’d be fine with it.

    Plus I love the irony of using the Precautionary Principle against hard-core Greens.

  11. As to the NIMBY argument, I say bullshit! I think wind farms are cool as all hell, and they can build them all up and down the front range! (Eastern Rockies in Colorado).


    PS We get plenty of wind. (make your jokes).

  12. If they found one dead bird around a nuclear power plant, the cry to shut it down would be cacaphonus! And, yes, I am amused to see Greenies hoist on the Precautionary Principle.

  13. I’m not against wind farms in the least bit, but there is a little piece of physics to consider:

    Wind farms remove energy from the wind. There’s less wind, or at least slower wind, on one side of the windmill than the other. Has to be, since kinetic energy of air is transformed into kinetic energy of the blades and then into kinetic energy of moving magnets that create an electromotive force which causes electrons to flow.

    Now, the result is that if we have enough wind farms there will surely be some sort of small-scale impact on local weather patterns. Probably nothing negative, but here’s the important point:

    Human activity will change some variable in the surrounding environment!

    Yes, that’s right, humans will have an impact on their surroundings! Time to ban wind power too!

  14. Sandy,

    I’ll bet the birds around Chernobyl are real beauties. And what a great free market solution nukes are for our energy challenges. The government pays all the R & D. The government pays all the clean up and waste disposal costs. The government picks up all the liability for accidents after a ridiculously low liability for the industry dictated by the Price Andersen Act. Nukes and the shipment of their byproducts are also the best possible target for a terrorists due to their highly radioactive contents and the massive damage that could occur from a meltdown or a terrorist attack. So they become another great reason for the government to limit our civil liberties in these terrorist crazy times. Yeah, nukes are a hell of a solution. Great plan.

  15. I think I’ll just have to resort to my trite response for all these “it kills the poor animals” issues:

    “Circle of Life, baby… Circle of Life”.

  16. Assign some sort of externality tax/fine and let the free market sort out the rest.

  17. Fred:

    You obviously haven’t looked into the newest breed of nuclear reactors. The kind that need an energy input in order to continue their reactions. With these reactors a damaging strike like a terrorist blowing up part of the reactor wouldn’t do anything other than shut off the power. The reactors cannot go out of control, because if you don’t keep things in balance they simply run out of fuel and shut off.

    New reactors simply don’t go critical. Not to mention Chernobyl is a flimsy diversionary argument against nuclear power. That plant went critical because the wackos running the place took the saftey features offline and messed with the power levels to see how far they could push the plant. By the time they realized what a foolish thing they had done it was too late. But as I said above, the new breed of reactors are made to be impervious to such events. So even if more nutjobs end up running the plant and they decide to throw caution to the wind and see what kind of damage they can do… kaput, the thing will just stop reacting and will shut off.

  18. France has fifty-eight nuclear reactors; they are some of the safest reactors on the planet. They provide France with 80% of her electricity, and produce enough excess electricity for the rest of the European grid that other European countries (e.g., Italy, Germany, etc.) have come to depend on French power. Witness the blackout in Italy this year when the French grid was cut off from Italy due to storms in the alps.

    As to birds, pollution, habitat loss, etc. is likely a far more important factor in bird death than wind turbines. Besides, wind turbines are beautiful. 🙂

  19. If only greens could fly…

  20. Fred says “Opponents to wind power…are just hypocritical self serving NIMBYs….disheartening to see Reason encouraging and supporting such foolishness.”

    I don’t think Reason is particularly supporting this argument; Brian says in the post that wind power is a relatively small threat to birds. The idea is just to laugh at two groups of enviros squabbling with each other. There’s nothing funnier than watching a bunch of greens and animal rightists slapfighting. And the precautionary principle irony stuff is pretty cool, too.

    And to be serious, thoreau said perfectly what is always in the back of my mind in an environmental debate. We always have an effect. Doesn’t matter what we do; if we eat, something dies, if we die, we feed a scavenger or a predator. Human life always, always has an environmental impact, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  21. “Avian Fatalities per Year
    (average estimates)

    Buildings: 500,000,000”

    Can bird-lovers be trusted not to drive airplanes into buildings?

  22. Hear hear, method! It’s always frustrating to hear poorly informed enviros and NIMBYs argue that we need to “leave alone” something that’s already been significantly altered by human activity.

  23. 1029

    I can hear them now “Trust us. We’re the nuclear experts. We have a safe new plan that will be wonderful and completely safe.”(except that it does still produce huge amounts of plutonium, the most dangerous element known to man and massive amounts of other lovely forms of nuclear waste that will have to be shipped right through your town on the way to the government run waste depository)

    Let them compete in the free market. Let’s abolish the subsidies, repeal the Price Andersen Act and make them pay for their own waste disposal. The nuclear industry wouldn’t exist in a free market.

    Using a nuclear reaction to boil water is the most ludicrous concept ever commercialized. Actually it never was really commercialized. The nuclear industry wouldn’t exist without massive government subsidy. Never has. Never will. It is stupid, expensive, dangerous and unnecessary technology.

  24. “…plutonium, the most dangerous element known to man…”

    Fred, you need to update your Greenpeace playbook. Tell you what: I’ll swallow an ounce of plutonium if you do the same with an ounce of table salt. Any bets on who croaks first?

  25. I agree with the “NIMBY Luddite” comment. Some Greens are never satisfied. We have mountain lions in Iowa for the first time in 75 years or more. They seem to be thriving. Are the enviros happy to see these big cats returning to the prairie? Hell no! Now they are whining because they are too visible, being “forced” out of their own habitat and into more contact with humans. When they weren’t here, it was a hundred and fifty years of human agriculture depriving them of said habitat. What the hell do these people want?

  26. What the hell do these people want?

    They think there are too many people on the planet, and that we consume too many resources. Ergo, they want you dead or impoverished.

  27. Posted by thoreau at December 8, 2003 02:37 PM:

    Now, the result is that if we have enough wind farms there will surely be some sort of small-scale impact on local weather patterns.

    I wonder if they slow down the wind as much as all of those trees we cut down.

  28. Fred,
    I agree we should let power providers compete in a free market. However, I’m certain nuclear power would become the dominant form of production within 20 years if allowed to. Nuclear power is neither expensive nor dangerous. The impossibility of a Chernobyl style meltdown of a western nuclear power plant is just basic physics. You don’t have to trust the experts, just take freshman physics.

    I understand that the perils of plutonium are greatly exaggerated. But so are the perils of salt (blood pressure wise). One ounce is hardly a toxic dose. So what’s up with that?

  29. R.C. Dean,

    Actually, they just want you dead; they want to avoid being impoverished by your death.

  30. Ed,

    Well said. In fact, plutonium probably isn’t even in the top 100. Some time ago, after Ralph Nader’s idiotic and completely meritless assertion (emphasis on the first three letters!) that one pound of plutonium is enough to kill 8 billion people, Dr. Bernard Cohen of the University of Pittsburgh physics department offered to go on television and eat one eight billionth of a pound of Pu, any isotope. He had no takers. I don’t known how deadly an ounce of table salt would be, but it seems certain that it would have a more dramatic effect that the ounce of plutonium.

    Most of a putative deadliest substances list would be taken up by a bunch of nasty organics, like mercaptoproprionic acid, which, when administered to rats, causes them to run until they die. Nasty

    Fred, the only ways to get plutonium on the list is to configure it into a bomb (there are a number of ways in which this can be accomplished), or fashion it into a dagger or hammer. And at 19.8 g/cc, your weapon will not be a large or dependable one.

  31. Everybody remember the Audubon Society calling wind turbans “Condor Cuisinarts”?

    I bout bust a gut first time I heard that. It’s a pretty damned funny turn of phrase.

    I love it when the simple-minded extremism of the greens forces them to devour themselves.

  32. I’m no physician, but I believe a whole ounce of sodium chloride, consumed at once, would cause severe organ distress, if not subsequent death.
    Any MDs out there?

  33. Jeff Clothier,

    Not to discount the possiblity that some enviros are hypocritical as you suggest, but are you sure it’s the same enviros who have switched positions?

  34. fred, why don’t we put it to the free market? while nuclear isn’t outrageously expensive, it is environmentally friendly compared to the cheapest forms of energy production — namely, fossil fuels. how if france replaced their immense nuclear generating capacity with coal (as apparently germany foolishly pretends to intend to do)?

    i was recently going over this issue with a friend, and in looking about was made aware of the fact that the united states produces 30,000 tons of nuclear waste a year. sound like a lot? it isn’t — all the waste ever generated in the united states would fill a football field 15 feet deep, and (as is noted on this thread) much of it simply isn’t hollywood-hysteria toxic, as we’ve always been told it was.

    if you’re an environmentalist with a brain instead of a religion, you’d be clamoring to knock down gas turbines and build nuclear reactors.

  35. If an ounce of salt were deadly, there’d be piles of bodies outside of every fast food joint in this country.

  36. actually, an ounce weigh of salt is a hell of a lot by volume — much more than you think. sodium chloride is actually a cardiac poison. the fabled chemist’s cocktail, suicide weapon of choice in the lab, was a few spoonfuls of potassium chloride in warm water — and K-Cl isn’t all that much more effective than Na-Cl, if i remember properly.

  37. Ed,

    You’re probably right, but even if you’re not, you could make your bet bulletproof by substituting equally mundane things like acetaminophen or caffeine, or something more obvious like rat poison or paraquat.

    And as far as the original statement goes, Fred; uh, how ’bout arsenic? or lead? or helium–i hear that’s what makes the sun so hot? they claim radium tastes pretty good, too. Anybody who’d accuse something of being the most dangerous “element” is either trying to make a ridiculously narrow and pedantic point, or making noise with big scary words.

  38. From a bit of internet searching, the LD50 (amount of a substance needed to kill 50% of a test group) for a rat is 3000 mg/kg. Assuming rats are just like people, a 150 pound person would need a little over 7 ounces to kill him:) But I think this assumes that this person doesn’t bother to drink a bunch of extra water, which would mediate any toxic effects.

    I think that the toxicity for Plutonium would depend on which isotope and what compound it’s in… pure solid Plutonium would be different than, say, PuO.

    Disclaimer: I am not an MD:)

  39. “From a bit of internet searching, the LD50 … for a rat is 3000 mg/kg.”

    Huh, I forgot to mention that I was talking about salt. The LD50 of salt for rats is 3000 mg/kg. Sorry if anyone missed the context and was confused.

  40. Brian Doherty,

    BTW, I think this sort of impact is what is generally termed a “revenge effect” by historians of science and technology.

  41. Warren,

    As I understand it, nuclear power is massively subsidized in the United States, at just about every stage in the production process: from building roads to uranium mines on government land (not to mention politically-determined leases on that land), to disposal of the waste; and every stage in-between, including government assumption and/or indemnification of liability.

    But maybe the reactors Sandy refers to operate more cheaply. If they are significantly less dangerous, I would expect the risk premium to also be significantly lower. Sandy?

  42. BTW, as Polynesia was colonized by humans over the past ~5,000 years, they managed to wipe out with mostly stone-age tools ~15%-20% of the bird species on the planet (of course we Europeans also added to the slaughter – and not only with birds, tropical island snail populations and other invertebrates also plummetted with the advent of Europeans). You’ll also find that most bird extinctions the Americas these days are driven by habitat loss – such as wintering grounds in Central America for migratory birds, etc. So give to the Nature Conservancy and other like-minded groups! 🙂

  43. Kevin Carson,

    While there is merit to the subsidization argument, the same argument can certainly be made for all the other major sources of energy. One huge difference is, the once-through fuel cycle used by the nuclear industry is a product of that subsidization.

    If the subsidies were removed, the industry would no doubt try to adapt to the vastly preferable (from an energy utilization standpoint) breeder reactor cycle. The fuel removed every year from a typical reactor has only yielded a small portion of its energy, in the single digit percentage range. This fuel is discarded in favor of fresh fuel because reprocessing is not currently as cheap as digging, milling and refining ore (pitchblende) due to the subsidization you mentioned. Breeder reactors ‘burn’ the fissile U235 while at the same time converting U238 into fissile plutonium.

    A few assorted notes: The government does not, BTW, pay all the costs associated with the nuclear power industry. All the operators are required to create a decommissioning fund. Regarding the deadliness of plutonium, it should be mentioned that while its radioactivity isn’t very dangerous as radioactive substances go, it is still a heavy metal, and like all heavy metals, is poisonous. And as far as the environmental aspect is concerned, the total footprint required by the industry (mining, transport, power stations, etc.) is smaller, per unit power, than any other energy source — by far. This is especially true if the once-through cycle is abandoned.

  44. The next time someone starts spouting off about the inherent dangers of a nuclear reactor, ask them the following: “How many reactor accidents have occurred in the U.S. nuclear navy?” After watching their jaw flap for a few moments, give them the answer (0), and then tell them to STFU. It is not the reactor, although some designs are riskier than others, it is the people in charge.

  45. “Let the eaaaagle…” bzzzzzzt!

  46. I wonder what the energy content of birds is, and whether a small turbine could be powered burning them.

  47. We could always employ the Burns omni-net.

  48. has anyone yet bothered to point out that birds are a renewable resource, unlike oil (and even more unlike plutonium)?

  49. A few final notes. 1029 mentioned that the new reactors ‘simply don’t go critical’. I’ve not heard of this. All reactors I’ve ever heard of run exactly at critical. That is where they operate. In this sense, ‘critical’ means that the rate of neutron production in the reactor is exactly balanced by the total neutron loss/ consumption,i.e., exactly enough to maintain the fission chain reaction at a constant rate. The only times they go SUPER-critical (which is what I think most people think is meant by “critical”) is when they are first started or restarted after a refueling outage.

    Also, Chernobyl was a reactor whose design would NEVER be approved in the West. First, the RBMK design (which Chernobyl is) has positive reactivity feedback, whereas US and other Western reactors all feature negative reactivity feedback. This means that if there is a problem with, for example, the coolant evaporating (a criticality excursion), the laws of physics assure that the reactor will go subcritical and shut down immediately (if operators had not intervened, TMI would have simply shut down). Secondly, Chernobyl lacked a containment. It had a “partial containment” (which is like saying “slightly pregnant”). Containments are standard features on all US and Western reactors.

    Why the hell did they design it that way? Well, the RBMK can be built arbitrarily large and thus produce any amount of power you specify. Its other big advantage is that it can be refueled without shutting it down, unlike the PWR’s and BWR’s used in the US.

    Steve, Denmark does get a big chunk of its power from windmills. They are built offshore where all the birds that they frappe fall into the ocean and become fish food.

  50. Eagles may fly, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.


  51. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 12:22:55
    There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.

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