Jun
11
2007

Save the world, just do it someplace else

Wind farms produce clean energy, but some people consider them eyesores: Photo by fieldsbh at Flickr.com
Wind farms produce clean energy, but some people consider them eyesores: Photo by fieldsbh at Flickr.com

A new book, Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound, tells the story of efforts to build wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod to provide clean, renewable energy for the state of Massachusetts. However, some of the wealthy people who live in the area – including some renowned environmentalists – object to the project located so close to their own homes.

This article from the Cape Cod Times describes some of the legal maneuvering that has thus far blocked the project. One objection is that wind turbines kill migrating birds. The reporter did some research and came up with the following statistics:

Human-caused bird deaths

• Domestic cats: Hundreds of millions a year
• Striking high-tension lines: 130 million - 1 billion a year
• Striking buildings: 97 million to 976 million a year
• Cars: 80 million a year
• Toxic chemicals: 72 million
• Striking communications towers: 4 to 50 million a year
• Wind turbines: 20,000 to 37,000

Source: National Research Council

Clearly, turbines are not a major threat to birds, while the clean energy they provide would be a major boost to the environment. So why are some environmentalists opposed? The authors of the book say it’s because the turbines, several miles off the coast, would still be visible from their beach-front property. (It is also interesting to note that some of the anti-turbine legislation has been proposed by congressmen from states that just happen to produce a lot of coal.)

For an overview of the issue, read this article from The Boston Phoenix.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

This really just seems like more evidence that we should outlaw domestic cats ; )

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 3:24pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Them's fightin' words!

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 4:30pm
YSC Robby's picture
YSC Robby says:

While the environmental movement has been boosted by folks following the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) principle it seems this phenomenon has found its opposite. Now we've got people preventing environmental improvements with the Not In My Back Yard approach. They're fine with cleaning up our world as long as it doesn't infringe on their lives in sometimes uncomfortable ways. Until we learn to become a bit less selfish the battle to right our environmental wrongs will continue to be long and slow.

But hey, at least your neighbor to the west (Minnesota) is taking large strides to welcome wind energy to our landscapes.

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 3:31pm
your mom's picture
your mom says:

yes, i believe so.....

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 3:56pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

My friend Donal sent me this message two weeks ago:

"As part of my new job, I have become aware that the general public--and indeed, most biologists--know very little about bat collisions with wind turbines, let alone how worrisome the situation is for a number of species.

Much of this 'ignorance' is due to the fact that this is a fairly recent problem...or at least scientists themselves have only become aware of it in recent years. Bird collisions at wind turbines have been known about for years, and steps have been taken to reduce kills, but apparently few folks thought to consider bats until recently.

Other obstacles have been due to a surprising lack of cooperation by the wind industry and regulating agencies. Florida Power & Light, America's wind industry leader, has prohibited research on bats at their facilities, and nothing is known about bat mortality from wind facilities in Texas--the state with the most wind turbines (and bats).

What has been reported from a handful of facilities across N. America is alarming, and raises many questions. Some examples: several thousand bats (a conservative estimate) were picked up from 2 facilities in the east over a 6-week period; 1200 have been picked up at a single facility in southern Alberta over the past 2 summers.

Most mortalities are occurring among 3 species of long-distance migrants--the hoary, the eastern red, and the silver-haired bats--and appear to occur mainly in the fall. At present, nobody knows why this is happening, although several ideas are out there. Perhaps migrating bats don't echolocate, and can't perceive the turbine blades in time. Or maybe their echolocation is not able to convey the danger (ie, they may not be able to 'see' that a giant blade is spinning).

One of the most interesting (and worrisome) hypotheses is that bats perceive turbines as 'tall trees' and are attracted to these structures as mating meccas. This particular theory comes from Paul Cryan--a fellow Greener grad and bat biologist who just happens to be the leading authority on migrating bats.

Recently, Paul gave a talk in Oregon that can now be viewed online.

I strongly encourage you to take a half hour or so to watch this talk, as he gives an excellent overview of the problem and current knowledge/efforts. Paul is a very good speaker, and his presentation is straight-forward and directed to a general audience. Some of his slides can't be viewed due to copyright issues (mainly photos of bats), and there is a bit concerning his own research that is hard to follow, since his time-lapse sequence can't be viewed, but be patient and you'll be amply rewarded.

Anyhow, just wanted to raise awareness on an issue that is important to me. Who knows how many kills have gone unnoticed or unreported to date, and how the cumulative effects of kills along a migratory route are affecting bat populations (about which we know very little to begin with)?

At the end of the day, wind power is far preferable to coal/oil/gas as an energy source, but there's no good reason we can't find ways to minimize the impacts of wind turbines on bats and other wildlife. Wind farms are going up left and right across the country, and it would be best to find compatible, 'green', solutions sooner than later.

Step one is raising awareness. So spread the word, and ask questions of your local energy provider!

Cheers,
Donal"

It's true that wind turbines kill bats. And that we don't know why. What I like about this message, though, is that Donal doesn't say, "So let's all stop building wind farms." The message is, "Let's ask a lot of questions, and when we find solutions, let's build them in from the ground up."

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 4:45pm
bryan kennedy's picture

The part here that really riles me up is Florida Power & Light preventing research on bats. Any time you see this sort of information blockade I get suspicious. They pretty much admit that they don't know enough about bats and wind power. "This is an area of science that is in its infancy."

Interestingly Minnesota's Xcel Energy did some research at Buffalo Ridge on bat kills in 2003. They found:

Data suggest that the number of bats migrating through the Buffalo Ridge area may be substantial and that wind plant-related mortality is apparently not large enough to cause large-scale population declines. Future research should concentrate on determining the causes of bat collisions and methods to reduce and/or mitigate the mortality.

While they didn't see enormous bat kills, 849 in 2001 and 364 in 2002, they do say there should be more research into this field. In another part of the study they do state that birds are less affected than bats at the Buffalo Ridge facility.

posted on Tue, 06/12/2007 - 9:02am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

The fight over the Nantucket Sound wind farm has been brewing for years and years.

It kind of cracks me up, actually. I mean, I love Cape Cod--I've spent many, many summer vacations there--but let's face it: the view from places like South Yarmouth might actually be improved by the wind farm. :)

It's also perplexing to me that people who build these crazy beach houses--which usually feature every possibly luxury, from hot tubs and jacuzzis to Tivo and wi-fi--are also against building the infrastructure (reverse osmosis water treatment plants, electrical generating plants, etc.) that makes those luxuries possible...

posted on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 5:04pm
bryan kennedy's picture

No way?! Enormously rich people not thinking about the greater good and making decisions based on their minority situation? Seriously? No way!

posted on Tue, 06/12/2007 - 8:52am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

what about bats

posted on Sat, 06/16/2007 - 1:32pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options