Wind energy: How many birds to kill turbines? It’s a wicked story

 Wind energy: How many birds to kill turbines?  It's a wicked story

A Montana-based conservation group says operators of wind farms and transmission lines need to be doing more to offset the killing of hundreds of thousands of birds that include iconic raptors and federally protected species like the American bald eagle and golden eagle.

The Property and Environment Research Center says the current system of allowable “takes” — or killings — of protected species is inadequate and is a “one size fits all” approach that fails to protect birds, according to a new report.

The problem with wind farms: Wind turbines account for a little over 8% of the power generation in the United States but have grown 56-fold over the last two decades, according to the organization.

But with that growth in wind turbines comes conflict with birds. It’s estimated that as many as 328,000 birds die each year as a result of contact with the massive blades. They are also deadly to bats, an important pollinator.

In fact, in Israel just this month, the country’s environment minister announced she was seeking a five-year moratorium on any new wind turbines because of their detrimental effect on nature.

“The promotion of clean and renewable energy is important, but so is the preservation of open space and nature in Israel,” Tamar Zandberg said in a statement reported by The Times of Israel.

While the capacity for wind energy in Israel was negligible, the potential for damage to nature was great, she wrote to the country’s energy minister.

Reforms needed: The Property and Environment Research Center says the collisions in the United States will only grow as the country ramps up for more renewable energy.

“These numbers are likely to increase, as the Department of Energy aims to have wind energy meet 20% of electricity demand by 2030 and 35% of demand by 2050. A number of states also have renewable energy targets likely to be met, at least in part, by increasing the number of onshore wind farms, the source of more than 99% of current US energy generation from wind,” the organization said.

It argues that because permits for “takes” have a fixed cost, allow for a maximum number of incidental deaths and are not transferable, there are not enough incentives in place for wind farm designers and operators to adjust their behavior.

“By effectively creating a market for eagle take, wind energy producers would be forced to consider the marginal cost of killing an eagle and adjust their behavior accordingly. They would essentially balance the cost of reducing the risk of killing an eagle against the price of a permit that would be required if an additional eagle were killed. Such a policy would create a tradable property right and could generate cost-effective eagle conservation if the market were sufficiently competitive and transaction costs were low,” the group argued.

Heavy costs: In 2013, Duke Energy agreed to pay a fine of $1 million, as well as $900,000 in restitution and compensatory mitigation, in a settlement for killing 14 eagles and 149 other protected birds at two wind farms in southeastern Wyoming between 2009 and 2013, according to tea US Department of Justice.

In 2014, PacifiCorp was fined $2.5 million for killing 38 golden eagles and hundreds of other protected birds at its wind farms in Wyoming, according to the Bend Bulletin.

PERC argues that in addition to incorporating a “trading” system for permits for greater incentives in the conservation arena, the permit system should be expanded to include transmission line owners.