Wind Power: Green and Deadly

An average US citizen or corporate entity who kills an endangered animal can be in big trouble with the law. Birds, eagles in particular, are zealously protected by nature lovers in America and around the world. Yet a July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, California, estimated that an average of 80 golden eagles were killed there by wind turbines each year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, estimated that about 10,000 other protected birds were being killed along with the eagles every year at Altamont. Where is the outrage over this slaughter? It would seem ecologists have a blind spot when it comes to the wind energy industry. As a result, the carnage caused by wind turbines, the “Cuisinarts of the Air,” is getting greenwashed. And birds are not the only creatures wind turbines kill—they kill bats and people as well.

In the US, birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. Over the past two decades, the federal government has brought hundreds of cases against energy companies for killing wild birds in the operation of their businesses. For example, in July 2009, the Oregon based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over a period of two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines. At the same time, wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds each year yet their owners are not being prosecuted.

While the total number of birds killed in the US each year fluctuates, Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates that US wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year. Yet the Justice Department is not bringing cases against wind companies. “Somebody has given the wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Fry said, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “If there were even one prosecution,” he added, the wind industry would be forced to take the issue seriously (see “Windmills Are Killing Our Birds”).


A dead white-tailed eagle killed in the Smøla wind-farm, off the Norwegian coast. Photo Espen Lie Dahl.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, each megawatt of installed wind-power results in the killing of between one and six birds each year. If environmentalists, lobby groups and some government officials have their way, the U.S. will be producing 20% of its electricity from wind by 2030. Meeting that goal will require about 300,000 megawatts of wind capacity, a 12-fold increase over 2008 levels, according to the DOE. If that target is achieved, at least 300,000 birds will be killed each year by wind turbines. Even so, wildlife enforcement officials do not expect to see any prosecutions of the politically correct wind industry.

America isn't alone in creating avian carnage, people across Europe have started to take notice of the true cost of “environmentally friendly” wind power. An energy company has admitted that endangered Red Kites are at significant risk from its planned new wind farm complex in South Wales. Other reports place the kestrel and plover in danger from wind turbines as well.

Martina Carrete, and colleagues from the Doñana Biological Station in Seville, recorded the number of Egyptian vulture carcasses with collision injuries found around 675 wind turbines in southern Spain between 2004 and 2008. Using a computer model containing information about turbine locations and nesting sites, the researchers estimate the rare Egyptian vulture will go extinct ten years sooner than expected, even if no more wind farms are built in Spain. The Spanish conservation group, Gurelur, places the current yearly damage at 409 vultures, 432 birds of prey, 671 bats and 6152 other bird species.

While some experts have downplayed the danger to birds it seems that bats are taking a greater hit—often in a literal sense. Bats, being a rather unloved species compared to birds, do not seem to carry as much weight with the eco-conscious. Two separate sets of researchers have reported two different ways that wind farms, with their rotating turbine blades, are dangerous, even deadly to bats. One report shows that bats, with their amazing flying and hunting abilities, are none the less being struck down by slashing turbine blades.

It is hard to believe that these adept, acoustic radar-equipped flying mammals simply fly into the blades, but a surprising number of bats are being killed by wind turbine farms. A study was prompted by recent finding that forest-dwelling bats are often found dead beneath operating wind turbines at wind energy facilities. Thermal infrared video cameras were used to record the flight behavior of bats at night near these turbines in an attempt to understand the cause of these fatalities. Quoting from the study report:

We observed bats actively foraging near operating turbines, rather than simply passing through turbine sites. Our results indicate that bats: 1) approached both rotating and non-rotating blades, 2) followed or were trapped in blade-tip vortices, 3) investigated the various parts of the turbine with repeated fly-bys, and 4) were struck directly by rotating blades. Blade rotational speed was a significant negative predictor of collisions with turbine blades, suggesting that bats may be at higher risk of fatality on nights with low wind speeds.

This followed previous research that showed that bats can have their lungs ruptured from the sudden low pressure of passing turbine blades: the bats are actually drowning in mid-air. It is not necessary for the bats to collide with the turbines, bats don't even need to come in physical contact with the turbine blades. A blade passing close by is enough to be fatal—an unexpected hazard that was previously unsuspected. For more on the bat deaths, including infrared video footage, see “Wind Turbines Spread While Bats Take Beating.”

Earlier this year, Judge Roger W. Titus of the US District Court of Maryland has “reluctantly” enjoined construction of a West Virginia wind farm under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to protect the Indiana bat. “Like death and taxes, there is a virtual certainty that Indiana bats will be harmed, wounded, or killed imminently by the Beech Ridge Project,” Titus wrote in a 74-page opinion. “The development of wind energy can and should be encouraged, but wind turbines must be good neighbors.”


The threatened Indiana bat halted construction of a wind farm.

Wind power projects in a large part of the US may now need to add Fish and Wildlife Service permits to development financing and cost estimates. Greens may be about to do to wind power what they have previously done to the nuclear industry, creating red tape and legal barriers to green energy deployment. It seems that some greens oppose any energy project supporting the “unsustainable” Western lifestyle.

Wind power, like every other source of power, has its hazards and negative effects on nature. There is no free lunch, ecologically speaking. Every action by man—or any other species for that matter—affects the environment in some way. We are all for wind power where it is appropriate and can operate economically. If appropriate means not along known bird migration routes, near nesting sites or areas with a lot of bat activity the potential for wind power may be a lot smaller than even moderate estimates.

It may, however, be impossible to avoid the impact widespread use of wind power could have on the environment. Analysis from MIT researchers suggests generating electricity from large-scale wind farms could influence climate—and not necessarily in the desired way. Scientists have discovered that directly interfering with wind on a sufficiently large scale affects the climate of the atmosphere.

In a paper published online February 22, 2010, in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, MIT researchers Chien Wang and Ronald Prinn suggest that using wind turbines to meet 10% of global energy demand in 2100 could cause temperatures to rise by 1°C in regions where land based wind farms are installed, with a smaller increase in surrounding areas. Their analysis indicates the opposite result for wind turbines installed in water: a drop in temperatures by 1°C over those regions. According to the paper:

Temperature increase occurs because the wind turbines affect two processes that play critical roles in determining surface temperature and atmospheric circulation: vertical turbulent motion and horizontal heat transport. Turbulent motion refers to the process by which heat and moisture are transferred from the land or ocean surface to the lower atmosphere. Horizontal heat transport is the process by which steady large-scale winds transport excessive heat away from warm regions, generally in a horizontal direction, and redistribute it to cooler regions. This process is critical for large-scale heat redistribution, whereas the effects of turbulent motion are generally more localized.

What the true impact of widespread, large scale wind turbine deployment will be is uncertain. What is certain is that the environment will be affected. The MIT researchers also suggest that the intermittency of wind power could require significant and costly backup options, such as natural gas-fired power plants. For more information about the reliability of wind power and the costs associated with its intermittency, see my previous post, “Energy Answer Not Blowin' In The Wind.”

An Ill Breeze

In January 2008, two giant Vestas wind turbines in the UK collapsed within weeks of each other. An executive from Vestas Wind Systems gave reassurances after it emerged that one of its turbines had fallen in Scotland just weeks before an incident near Caldbeck in Cumbria. The global manufacturer has produced about 35,000 turbines since being formed in the 1970s. These were the first such incidents in the 29-year history of wind energy in the UK, and have prompted safety fears to be raised by anti-windfarm campaigners.

This, and similar incidents around the world have raised questions regarding the safety and durability of wind turbines. Wind power is usually thought of as being totally safe and benign, not a source of industrial accidents or even death. The truth is rather startling: since the 1970s there have been 482 reported accidents resulting in 49 deaths.

Of the known deaths, 35 were wind industry workers—installers, maintenance engineers, etc—and one farmer attempting to maintain his own turbine. The most common cause is falling from turbines. Working on wind turbines is a dangerous profession. It begins with a climb up the supporting tower, as much as 300 ft (90 m) straight up. A fit maintenance worker can make the climb from ground to turbine in perhaps five minutes.


Wind turbine failure in Cumbria, UK. Source CLOUD.

At the top awaits a room the size of a small bus, filled with a large generator, motors, gears and electronics. A typical turbine contains 8,000 parts, and the largest models can generate 3 MW of electricity. The turbine technician works in a cramped space, filled with complicated machinery and high voltage circuitry. A gentle wind at ground level can be a near gale 27 stories above the surface. Like a ship at sea, the top of a wind turbine can sway from side to side, with the generator housing constantly shifting to keep its blades facing into the wind. Under strong winds, technicians have been known to vomit. In all, not a job for the weak or faint of heart.

Outside of wind industry workers, there were 14 public fatalities reported over the past four decades, three of which were from road accidents attributed by police to drivers being distracted by the turbines. One was from a road accident collision with a turbine transporter in which a driver was killed, while in another, the road collapsed and a transport driver drowned.

Among the stranger circumstances was an aircraft accident where a pilot flew into a new, unmarked anemometer (a device used for measuring wind speed) that was mounted atop a turbine. Four people died in another aircraft accident when a plane collided with a turbine in fog. A 16-year old boy strangled after his necktie became tangled around an unprotected turbine shaft and a farmer killed himself because of public opposition to his proposed wind turbines. Perhaps the strangest incident of all was when a German skydiver drifted into an operating wind turbine on her first unassisted jump. In doing so she became the first woman killed by wind energy.

A further nineteen accidents resulting in human injury are documented. Thirteen accidents involved wind industry or construction workers, and a further five involved members of the public: one lost a leg in a transport accident, one was hit by thrown ice, one suffered spinal injuries from a falling turbine part, one fell from 100 m tower during an accompanied visit, and another flew his aircraft into a wind farm site. One 2003 accident resulted in two industry workers receiving appalling burns.

By far the largest number of incidents are due to blade failure. Blade failure can arise from a number of possible sources, and results in either whole blades or pieces of blade being thrown from the turbine. A total of 122 separate incidents have been documented. Pieces of blade are known to have landed over 1300 feet (400 m) from the turbine. Most of these were from older turbines that are much smaller than those being built today.


Short circuits, friction or lightening strikes can cause wind turbines to go up in flames. Photo Der Spiegel/DPA.

In Germany, blade pieces have gone through the roofs and walls of nearby buildings. Safety experts believe that there should be a minimum distance of at least 3000 ft (1 km) between turbines and occupied housing. European countries mandate at least 6500 ft (2 km) in order to address other problems such as noise.

Surprisingly, fire is the second most common accident cause in incidents found. Fire can arise from a number of sources and some turbine types seem more prone to fire than others. The biggest problem with turbine fires is that, because of the turbine height, the fire brigade can do little but watch it burn itself out. While this may be acceptable in reasonably still conditions, in a storm it means burning debris being scattered over a wide area, with obvious consequences. In dry weather there is obviously a wider-area fire risk, especially for those constructed in or close to forest areas and/or close to housing. A total of 104 fire incidents have been reported.

Structural failure, like the incident in Cumbria, is the third most common accident cause, with 58 reported instances. Structural failure implies major component failure under conditions which the turbine should be designed to withstand. This mainly occurs during storms, which can damage turbines and even cause tower collapse. Dramatic footage was captured of a Danish wind turbine collapsing during a storm in February, 2008. The blades and generator housing practically exploded under the strain.

While structural failure is far more damaging than blade failure, the accident consequences and risks to human health are most likely lower, as risks are confined to within a relatively short distance from the turbine. However, as smaller turbines are now being placed on and around buildings, including schools, the accident frequency is expected to rise. A related type of incident is ice being thrown from the rotating blades, with distances of up to 450 ft (140 m) being reported.


Aftermath of Danish wind turbine structural failure.

The wind power industry is fond of showing tranquil scenes with contented cows munching grass underneath soaring turbine blades in a wind park. Little did we know that the cows were in such danger. Being an engineer as well as a scientist, I accept that humans will have an impact on nature and other living things. What I cannot abide are those sanctimonious, greener-than-thou conservationists who are mindlessly devoted to “green power” while becoming apoplectic at the mention of building new nuclear power plants.

I am all for clean energy, but only if it is safe energy. So let's be realistic here, birds and bats do not get hacked from the air by nuke plants. And I know from personal experience, living on Chesapeake Bay near the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, that fish love the warm water outlets from such installations. Over the past 40 years there have been more deaths attributed to wind power than to nuclear power, yet nuclear power is the one always called “unsafe” by conservationists. It's time to grow up children—if you want to save the birds, the bats and the humans, embrace the power of the atom.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.


Green energy done right, the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.

[ Note: most of the information presented in this post was taken directly from our new book, The Energy Gap. Look for The Energy Gap on Amazon later in May, 2010. ]

Wind Turbines

Get a life my friend.

I dont think you realise the crisis our planet is in and how much we need great ideas like the Wind Turbine.

I know they are not ideal, but hey.....nothing is and the positives outweigh the negatives by far.

You seem like a clever bloke so stop waisting your time by criticising Turbines and put your thoughts into something else.

If you cobined your intellegence with the time on this blog and website you may have saved half a million people in africa per year instead of worrying about the half a million birds predicted getting killed by the Turbines.

Good day

William

Cut me to the quick

I do so enjoy the smug condescension of self-assured devotees to the cause (any cause). They bring no rational arguments to make their case, only fatuous derision of those they disagree with. After all, Facts are such inconvenient things, always contradicting what you know is right and threatening to force one to think critically. Read the evidence and open your mind—but beware! If you open your mind you may never get it comfortably closed again.

You are so right, Doug

It’s impossible to argue using facts with wind turbine believers as they belong to a belief system where science and reason don't play a part. They feel like they have seen the light and have a mission to save the planet. They also feel that they are better human beings than the rest of us because of this. Their way of arguing is always ad hominem attacks since they lack real knowledge about the issue and the facts of reality aren't on their side.

Bird Deaths in America

Wind Turbines: 108,000 annually
Building: 550,000,000 annually (just buildings)

Even the damns kill more birds than wind turbines...

Conditional Compassion

Exact statistics for the number of birds killed by wind turbines are not available, but a 2008 study by a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that wind farms were killing about 440,000 birds per year in the United States. To meet the Obama administration's stated goal of getting 20% of the nations energy by 2030, the nation will need to produce about 12 times more wind energy than in 2009. So a rough future estimate would be 6 million birds a year. Are you saying that it is OK to slaughter 6 million birds per annum because we kill so many already? What a strange sense of compassion (as for the “damns,” I doubt that cursing at birds does much damage).

Curious...

Just out of curiosity how much waste is created by a nuclear power plant?

about 1/5 of a rail car per year

You might be interested to see this comparison between coal waste and nuclear waste: http://thingsworsethannuclearpower.blogspot.com/2012/03/real-waste-probl...

Conservationist vs "Environmentalist"

Doug, this is an excellent and much-needed essay, for which many thanks.

But I do take exception to your use of "conservationist." I've been a conservationist all my life, growing up in a rural small town in Wisconsin surrounded by hunters, fishermen, and farmers. Even my Episcopal priest was an avid deer hunter; the joke was that he had a hunting jacket with a clerical collar. This was, of course, back when "Episcopal" still denoted a church. Conservationism goes back to Teddy Roosevelt: preserve habitat, preserve and reasonably manage the wildlife. State fisheries are one example; all this has been wildly successful, as the currently huge deer herds in the East will testify -- the Eastern Whitetail having been in real danger of extinction around 1900.

Environmentalists, though, are something else, as has been noted in many comparisons to watermelons. And very early, if not immediately, the mid-'70s green movement was taken over by them. In contrast to loving stewardship of nature, these Leftist loonies are overtly anti-human.

So please try to distinguish between "conservationists" and "environmentalists" -- or use whatever terms you may prefer, just be clear. Environmentalists are perfectly willing to sterilize hundreds of acres of priceless wilderness with wind turbines, to make themselves feel properly progressive. Conservationists depend on wilderness, Nature, and wildlife to maintain their consciousness of what it means to be human.

Thanks again for a fine essay,

Craig

Its just shocking and

Its just shocking and obviously needs to be sorted but how? And what can be done?

How much is it going to cost

How much is it going to cost Japan to contain and cleanup the mess?

It's always about tradeoffs, isn't it?

I find it interesting that no mention is made of sewage treatment plants and all the birds (and fish) that are killed processing our shit. Way outnumbers birds killed by windmills. Or the loss of habitat, make that, the near udder destruction of habitat in places like Ecuador, Canada, or anywhere else where mining and oil drilling are conducted. But people normally don't see these out of the way places and the damage done there, which also results in massive kill-off. Comparatively, windmills do next to nothing. Yes, birds being killed are a problem. But is it any less of a problem than mining, drilling, oil spills, mercury in being discharged from coal burning power plants, freeway/highway road kill, aircraft hitting or sucking birds into their engines, deforestation, habitat loss and encroachment, man caused wildfires, channeling rivers, streams, or creaks, contaminated rainwater runoff, or out of control nuclear power plants, plastic continent-islands in the middle of the oceans, or global warming? There is always a law of unintended consequences, there are always tradeoffs, but really, we've got to start somewhere with cleaning up our messes.

Counting the cost

The overall damages from the record earthquake and tsunami are estimated by Japan’s government at as much as 25 trillion yen ($438 billion), an amount almost four times the cost of Hurricane Katrina. Tokyo Electric Power Co. is required to cover third-party damages of 120 billion yen ($2.1 billion) under Japanese law. Should the government declare the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that flooded its reactors an “exceptional” act of God, the utility may be off the hook in paying further compensation. In other words, the government (i.e. the Japanese taxpayers) will get stuck with the bill.

At Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island in 1979, one reactor partially melted in the worst U.S. accident. Repair and cleanup took 14 years to complete, costing $975 million. For four reactors at Fukushima, at $1 billion a peace, that's about $4 billion to clean up the site itself. So, a total with damages of around $10 billion would not be out of line. Still, compared with the overall damages, that's still chump change.

So far, no one has died from the Fukushima accedent. A good deal of radiation has been released, but mostly as short lived radioactive iodine. The earthquake and tsunami, on the other hand, killed 12,000 and 15,000 more are still missing, by official estimates. Yet all of the eco-wankers are fixated on the nuke plant. Irrationalism knows no bounds.

As for your little eco-rant about the rainforests etc., do you know what harvesting oil sands will do to northern Canada? Or cutting down the forests to grow more crops for biofuels? Do you think that wind turbines come from nowhere? They contain metals, plastics (from hydrocarbons) and rare earths, all of which extract a cost from nature. And the cost of the damage they do runs high (watch for my next column on bats, the cost to agriculture will shock you). If you want to save nature, go nuclear. Otherwise you are lying to yourself and everyone else.

Counting the cost

Well put Doug. Here in Ontario at least, wind turbine plants are also going up on the most valuable farmland in Canada. The footings alone require the equivalent of a movie theatre in concrete to stabilize them. Where do people think all that gravel, concrete, water and carbon fuel to process and truck the aggregate comes from? More farmland and moraines ruined, aquifers drained etc. We farmers are already working hard enought to produce cheap food for 97% of the population, please don't take our farmland away as well and use us as sacrificial lambs for your ineffective, inefficient wind turbines. What's the alternative? SUB-CRITICAL nuclear reactors. Meaning no meltdown danger, uses Thorium instead of Uranium (more stable), can use up stockpiles of weapons grade Plutonium to kick start the reaction, thereby eliminating another dangerous product, AND generates lots of energy! Two birds killed with one stone, a desired outcome this time. We need to distinguish and educate people about this "other" nuclear, but there is a stigma to overcome. Subcritical reactors are cheaper to build, and have a smaller footprint than wind turbine plants. By the way, I'm an organic farmer, who grew up in a coal mining town in Wales and now farms in Ontario. I know coal is bad, but turbines will never ever help to close one coal plant. They simply don't deliver the electricity they always promise.

wind turbines

The local economy does benefit from the construction of a wind farm in the community. This stimulation occurs in the creation of renewable employment; most wind farms will require some local management and maintenance. The local individuals receive substantial income from land rent paid by the power company, and in turn some of this income is put back into the local schools through taxes. During construction, a local area benefits from the money spent in local businesses by those working on site construction.

False economics

NREL estimates that 1-2 temporary construction jobs are created per MW during construction, 2-5 permanent jobs per 100MW for operation. Land owners can expect $2500-4000/MW/year. As Spain discovered, renewable energy, which includes wind, destroys 2.5 jobs for every job it creates. Plus, these jobs are only viable with government subsidies. Wind power is not a net creator of jobs and is not economically viable without government handouts. Add in scenic desecration and threats to wildlife and it becomes clear that wind is a bad deal all around.

I have no idea where you get

I have no idea where you get your information, but it is false. The country is in constant need for more energy. After a certain working period, windmills pay themselves off AND pay for the people required for maintenance. Furthermore, megawatts are not a unit of job creation, but the production of windmills has created thousands of jobs country-wide. The complexity of the economy is often difficult to comprehend, so I can see why you might be confused.

From Reference Studies

Your attitude is typical of naive greens who argue from comfortable ignorance. The job cost numbers come from a study, “Study of the Effects on Employment of Public Aid to Renewable Energy Sources,” prepared by Gabriel Calzada Álvarez, PhD, an economics professor at King Juan Carlos University in Madrid. I would posit that Dr. Álvarez comprehends the complexity of the economy. Installed megawatts is a way of measuring the amount of installed wind power capacity, not of employment. Your complaint is specious and you offer no references to support your assertions. But thank you for your post, ever time a knee-jerk green energy proponent reacts as you have, the arguments that I offer look eminently reasonable.

For an update on the Spanish report and efforts to refute its conclusions see “Spanish Wind, Revisited ” by Dr. Robert Peltier,

Right on

Your arguments are right on, Doug. For further evidence of the false economics of wind power check out the Norwegian report. In 1998, Norway commissioned a study of wind power in Denmark and concluded that it has "serious environmental effects, insufficient production, and high production costs." For information on that report and on the truth about Denmark's wind production see:

http://www.aweo.org/problemwithwind.html

THE ENGINEERING OF THE WINDPOWER GENERATORS

MAYBE I AM NOT THE BRIGHTEST SPARK BUT I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT USING A TRANSMISSION SHAFT OF SOME DESCRIPTION AND HAVING THE GENERATOR ON GROUND LEVEL WOULD POSSIBLY MAKE THE OPERATION SAFER AND MORE EFFICIENT AS THERE WOULD BE NO NEED TO SUSPEND A HUGE GENERATOR SO HIGH OFF THE GROUND. THIS MAY ALSO LESSEN THE DAMAGE COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH FAILURES AND LOWER MAINTENANCE COSTS AND REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF HIGH ALTITUDE MAINTENANCE REQUIRED. JUST MY THOUGHT THOUGH. I ALSO THINK THAT WITH THE RIGHT ENGINEERING AND AN ACCOMODATING DESIGN THE TURBINES COULD BE MADE MUCH SAFER FOR THE BIRD COMMUNITIES. MY THOUGHTS ALSO HAVE ME THINKING OF THE "DYSON" BLADELESS FAN AND WONDER IF A SIMILAR DESIGN MAY BE ABLE TO BE MADE WORK IN REVERSE AND HARNESS WIND ENERGY, HOWEVER THERE WOULD STILL BE THE AIR PRESSURE PROBS TO DEAL WITH. BUT I WILL ALWAYS BELIEVE THAT THERE IS ALLWAYS BE A WAY AND NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE, WE JUST NEED THE WILL TO FIND THE ANSWER THAT MINIMISES WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG ... AND IN SUMMARY I THINK THOSE THAT HAVE THE RESOURCES AND SMARTS TO GET IT DONE WILL EVENTUALLY GET IT DONE...

I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO SAY I WANT TO SEE THESE THINGS IMPROVED AND NOT JUST SIMPLY ABANDONED. FAILURES ARE REGRETTABLE BUT THEY ARE THE STEPPING STONES TO SUCCESS IF THE RIGHT ATTENTION IS PAID TO THEM. NOT LEARNING FROM THEM AND TAKING NO ACTION WOULD BE A TRAGEDY. I BELIEVE PATIENCE WILL YIELD PROGRESS.

And this is only what is seen

And this is only what is seen and has immediate impact on the public. I am a beekeeper and I have big problem with these wind turbines. Not to mention the huge wind farms. I apiary located near such a wind farm and my bee flocks were halved in just two months. Until I realized that was because it was too late. And you know how important are bees in nature. Einstein said that life on Earth will be off a few years after the disappearance of bees.

Bees,

Please give us more information on the trouble with Bees and Industrial Wind Turbines. I hear about the bats and the birds, infrasound, human illnesses and ailments but this is the first I've read anything about bees. I'm very interested to know more. Thank you. Colette*

Wind versus Oil on bird deaths

To date, the confirmed death toll for birds due to BP Gulf oil spill is two.

How many birds are killed per year by wind turbines?

The National Research Council in its publication "Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects" states wind turbines kill 100,000 birds per year.

It is estimated oil production in the US kills 2,000,000 birds per year. See US Fish and Wildlife Service publication "Migratory Bird Mortality".

Wind turbines, if we assume the wind blows all day, produces 22.8 giga BTUs per year.

The US consumes 37,000,000 giga BTUs in oil per year.

Do the math and one finds the following:

Wind turbines kill 4,385 birds per million BTUs produced.

Oil kills 0.053 birds per million BTUs produced.

Birds are much safer when we get our energy from oil over wind.

Regards

Jack Simmons

Bird deaths from

How many fish have been killed by windmills???

What kind of question is that?

None from operation. The wind mill has no affect on fish. A negligible amount of seabed is compromised for the construction of the base for offshore windmills, but in comparison to fishing, dredging, pollution, and oil industry, the consequences are negligible and the foundations can even provide new habitat for marine life. Shore windmills (the vast majority) have NO affect on fish.

I have 1 question

How much energy do we get from birds? I am going to gues around ZERO! BTUs.

Altamont is a poor example

Doug, you're so keen on researching and knowing the science and facts, so you must know that Altamont Pass is one of the US's oldest wind farms, primarily relying on antiquated wind turbines that spin faster and are closer to the ground. These older designs are super deadly to birds, but newer designs are not nearly as dangerous to flying wildlife. Furthermore, Altamont Pass is a major bird migration Route and hunting grounds for Golden Eagles. Therefore, you have there a situation uniquely suited for the accidental destruction of eagles and other birds. No other wind farm in the world suffers such extensive bird problems. Altamont should be shut down, today. Wind power in general, however, is much safer for birds and other wildlife than using fossil fuels. Ongoing research on lighting is eliminating nighttime migration casualties, and population/migration studies will ensure that we don't put another wind farm in the middle of a bird hotspot, like Altamont Pass. That project was a failed experiment, but we're getting better at this stuff every day.

Did you purposely leave out the fact that Altamont Pass is an outlier? What's your angle here?

PREDICTION: Get ready for another 'failed' project

Guess what? Your reassurance is false. Either you are a phony with an agenda, or you are seriously uninformed.

Altamont is a perfect example of what happens when greed and political expediency/correctness prevail over science and 'inconvient truths'.

I believe your point is that Altamont's location and configuration are skewing statistical results, yes? And that one should take into account factors that skew such results, yes?

I have no problem doing that --that is what good science is all about-- but at the same time you curiously take for granted that another Altamont-like installation would never be allowed, because "we're getting better at this stuff every day."

What's your angle here?

If you dare, take a look at the soon-to-be-constructed Lompoc, CA windfarm. You can ignore that it is sited on the pacific flyway, you can ignore that the location is home to one of the richest undisturbed avian ecosystems remaining on the west coast, you can ignore that it is home to incredibly varied populations of protected raptors including very large populations of bald and golden eagle, BUT YOU CANNOT IGNORE it is going to be built there, regardless of ALTAMONT, regardless of a full EIR that recognized the danger but was ignored by a politically motivated Board of Supervisors.

Either gather up your carpet bag and get out of town, or summon some courage and oppose this project as a person of integrity.

Good Old Altamont

Yes, Altamont is old and should be shut down (by the way, who will pay for dissembling it?). By the same token, it is often used by renewable energy proponents as an example of a successful wind installation. If you read the article you will notice that wind farms in Spain and Norway also have a habit of hacking up large birds, and that doesn't begin to address the bat problem. My "angle" is to show that no source of energy is perfectly benign, they all have some negative impact on the environment. That includes wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and hydro.

You also seem to have ignored the passage where I said I was all for wind power where it is appropriate and can operate economically, appropriate meaning not along known bird migration routes, near nesting sites or areas with a lot of bat activity. And if you have been following my energy commentaries for any time you would also know I am for reducing fossil fuel use (coal in particular).

As you may have gathered, I am a strong proponent of nuclear. It is safe, ecologically responsible and economical, if frivolous law suits and delaying tactics are disallowed. I notice that those opposed to nuclear energy always hold up Three Mile Island, a design that is decades old but actually worked at preventing a true disaster, and Chernobyl, an archaic design that no sane government should have allowed to be built. If nuclear opponents are allowed to cherry pick their bad examples, so am I. Besides, just because Altamont is worst-in-class doesn't mean that other wind farms do not suffer from similar problems, even if to a lesser extent.

One of my mentors, Professor Fred Brooks, famously said that there is no silver bullet. Though he was talking about software engineering the statement applies to just about any complex engineering task. It certainly applies to energy. The media is filled with gushing statements by green/renewable energy advocates stating that this or that alternate power source is THE way for the future—a panacea for all the world's energy woes. This is patent nonsense, there is no one answer. That is what this article was about.

TMI, Yucca, and Coal

Three Mile Island is a very interesting case. The actual problem was a valve in a pressure-release chamber in the primary loop stuck open. The operator, whose primary experience was with Navy nuke-powered vessels (which use a very different design), misinterpreted the control-room readings and for several hours kept overriding the automatic systems that were trying to shut the reactor down. In spite of this, no dangerous radiation was released to the environment -- and this in a design now at least two technological generations out of date!

Yucca should have been completed. The plans called for reservation of space for a reprocessing facility, and a "temporary" closure to allow retrieval of the fuel from the repository if reprocessing was approved; then permanent sealing after 300 years. If this sounds squirrelly, bear in mind that this was a Federal project, and its goals, specifications, and timeline were all determined by political, not free-market, processes.

Coal is a fine fuel; we have loads of it (the US is the Saudi Arabia of coal) and modern plant design -- fluidized bed etc. -- have pretty much done away with the real pollutants, sulfur and nitrogen compounds. One problem is that the advanced burning technology and scrubbers raise the capital cost of the plant, which is why they are notably -- and sadly -- absent from Chinese and Indian designs.

The real problem with coal isn't in the burning, it's in the mining. Although mine-related worker mortality has declined quite a bit over the last 30 years, if you look at the numbers, the decline tracks almost exactly the overall decline in coal mining employment due to increased mechanization; on a per-employee basis, there's been no real decline at all. And there's also the consideration of environmental damage.

Can you imagine the progress that could have been made if a substantial fraction of the $100 billion or so spent chasing the Global Warming Fairy over the last couple of decades had been spent researching mine safety, cheaper pollution control, and ash recycling? [Sigh...]

Problems with TMI and coal

With regard to TMI, I have used the analogy of an airplane that looses an engine on take off but manages to return to the airport with no injuries or loss of life. An abnormal, frightening situation but not a disaster. Our new book, The Energy Gap, contains entire chapters on coal, oil, gas, wind, solar, and nuclear energy, including their future potential and the dangers arising from their use. TEG is currently in the final (painful) proofing stage and should be available in a mater of weeks.

yep

Yeah, I agree there is no one easy answer. I don't think nuclear power is unsafe for people (and actually, chernobyl has become a gigantic sanctuary for endangered wildlife), but I do have a problem with the fact that it has an input that is non-renewable and must be mined and then transported great distances. Mining, and the subsequent leaching, purification, transportation, etc., is very harmful to the environment, and as you may have guessed, that is my main issue. There is also the unsolved issue of disposal, though that actually bothers me less. The main reason people like myself would like to see this problem solved via wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, pumped hydro, and (most of all) less consumption is that all these sources will last as long as our sun, and take advantage of the incredible amount of free energy it sends us every year. The long-term survival of human and animal life alike depends on our ability to harvest as much of the 'solar budget' as possible, and live within that budget.

-John in Michigan (I also wrote the original comment)

A permanent energy solution

I do not view nuclear as a “permanent” solution either, but it has a much longer life expectancy than most people realize, particularly if thorium is put into the mix. Running constellations of Generation IV reactors that team a fast-spectrum breeder reactor with several non-breeders, fuel can be recycled on site, minimizing any risk of theft or unplanned release during transport. With this technology, which is well proven, there is about a 400 year world supply of uranium. If thorium is added to the blanket material in the breeder, additional fuel can be created. This technology has also been proven, both in the US and in other countries (India, in particular, is reported to be looking to thorium fuel). Since thorium is much more abundant than uranium (~4x) this greatly extends the prospective fuel supply, some estimates go as high as 4000 years.

The typical pessimistic nuclear fuel projections come from nuclear opponents and is based on the inane open fuel cycle used in the US—the legacy of Jimmy Carter. This dictates that the enriched fuel load is used up, releasing about 4% of the contained potential energy, and then the fuel is disposed of (that was what Yucca Mountain was for). Aside from creating a great deal of long lasting waste, this system is incredibly wasteful of fuel. I have likened it to cutting down trees, burning the resulting logs in your fireplace until the bark is consumed, and then having to store the charred logs for several thousand years. Using fast-spectrum reactors to burn the used fuel allows 94% of the energy to be extracted from existing uranium supplies. It also greatly reduces the volume of waste, and the waste that is produced is much shorter lived in terms of harmful radioactivity.

Eventually we may get fusion or we may build solar power satellites in stationary orbit. Orbiting power satellites are not hampered by the day-night cycle of terrestrial solar collectors, due to the inclination of Earth's equatorial plane and the distance from the planet of a geosynchronous orbit. There is also significantly more solar energy available in space than underneath Earth's atmospheric blanket (1,366 W/m2 vs ~375 W/m2). Beaming power to the ground using microwaves has been demonstrated and the losses are quite acceptable (rectenna conversion efficiencies exceeding 95% have been realized).

If you are looking for a good excuse to go back to the moon this is it, since mining and refining material from the moon would be more efficient than shipping it all up from Earth's surface. I doubt that I'll live to see it, but until humanity can build such things nuclear fission will get us by. You can throw in wind, concentrating solar, geothermal and the like, where they actually make economic and environmental sense, but we will need baseload power and the only source of “green” baseload is nuclear.

Beam it down, Scotty ...

OK, Doug, so now instead of just whacking the birds out of the air with the 200-mph bladetip of a wind turbine, we have a tightly-collimated power beam that delivers them to the desert floor already roasted with the feathers burned off. "Green jobs" will be provided in the form of waiters to bring the wine list to the coyotes...

Seriously, you are quite right that a long-term energy solution, given current and near-term forseeable technology, lies with nuclear and thorium with breeders. But the capital cost and required scale of such plants means that their application over the next half-century will be limited to the rich Westernized world; the bulk of the power needed to free African and south Asian mothers from the choking smoke of dung fires will have to come from coal, which Africa and China have in abundance, a cheaper and more scalable technology. As I've said elsewhere, research into making advanced pollution control in coal burners more affordable, and coal mining safer and less environmentally destructive, would have a much greater practical value than supporting research trying to find the Global Warming Gremlin.

Beaming it down

Actually the energy density of the microwave beam is quite low, around 23 mW/cm2. Tests in the 1960s and 1970s showed there would be no impact on wildlife passing through the transmission path. Bear in mind that the ground rectenna would be an eliptical array rouoghly 10 x 14 km. Such an antenna could transfer between 5 and 10 gigawatts of power.

Screens

OMG! Fans are so dangerous! I have a fan and I could cut my finger off accidentally in its deadly blades, except for the screen around it.

How about just putting a screen around the blades and it will all be better?

Instead of ranting about the evils of windpower, how about working to make these alternative solutions work?

Bad idea

Denis Miller said it best, that idea is "stop an electric fan with your tongue stupid".

Screens on wind turbines

Have you ever tried to hold a screen door open in a strong wind? Screen catches a lot of wind and may as well be a sail. Now hoist it up to 300 ft off the ground, where the wind could be blowing 25-35 mph. A 2 MW wind turbine typically has 150 ft blades, which would mean the screen covering would have an area of 70686 sq ft. For comparison, an Americas Cup racing yacht only has a main sail area of around 3560 sq ft. You would definitely need a much stouter support column, and imagine what would happen in a strong blow (like a hurricane). Under high winds the blades of a turbine can be feathered but little could be done with that gigantic screen sail.

Then there is the matter of energy extraction and efficiency. Betz' law limits energy extraction by a wind turbine to ~59%, and real world designs only capture 70% of that. Wrapping the blade disc with screen, or even a coarse mesh is going to send the efficiency of the turbine into the basement. Lower efficiency means higher cost, and wind is already uncompetitive without government incentives.

Aesthetically, if you thought those forest of wind turbines were an eyesore before, imagine what they will look like when the turbines all resemble 300 ft flyswatters. On the bright side, a good storm will probably rip them all down.

Finally, you should probably avoid the use of texting-twerp abbreviations like “OMG!” It is a dead giveaway that the writer has a room temperature IQ. As for the notion of screens on wind turbines, file it under ideas by the naive and ignorant.

Angry Engineer

Depends on the size of the mesh

To use a screen door metaphor is disingenuous. You can use a much wider mesh (2"x 2") square and the winds would easily blow through it, even at 300 mph, and yet most birds wouldn't inadvertently fly into the blade. They could build a frame around the blade to wrap the mesh around and it wouldn't diminish the performance of the turbine or the ability to withstand high winds.

Wind Power

There is no free lunch as the old saying goes. Everything has a price. The question each society must ask itself and should answer is: what cost are we willing to sustain? It appears that many have been misinformed about just what the price of wind energy harvesting is.

Are you kidding me?!?!?

Funny that this page has a crude oil ticker- that's because it's all that the author cares about. And look at the articles to the right. Why spend time arguing that global warming is not happening unless you are invested in proving that it not.

How many fish are killed by the propellers of the oil tankers that bring oil here, how many animals are killed by the wars we fight for oil? You sir are severely misguided. What is your alternative to wind energy? If it's solar or tidal or geothermal, fine. Then say so in your article! Otherwise, But it's for coal or oil or nuclear or so called natural gas, all of which are 1000's of time more dangerous than wind turbines.

I like the idea of the screens. Let's do it. Case closed.

Http://EnergyInOurHands.com

http://thewaronoil.com/index2.htm

Who's kidding who?

Your post is one of the most incredibly illogical and unseasoned that has ever been made on this site. Let me see if I can answer some of your poorly posed questions and irrational statments.

  1. This site has an “oil ticker” because the price of oil is an important economic indicator and also reflects activity in the energy sector. There have been numerous predictions of oil shortages, which should drive the price skyward. No rise, no shortage. I find it much easier to formulate a correct world view when you have some facts to base your opinions on.
  2. By what warped line of reasoning do you conclude that oil is all I care about? Read some of the hundreds of articles posted on this site and you will find that I am not a fan of oil, and even more opposed to continued coal use. I am concerned about the environment and the future of humanity, even the willfully ignorant.
  3. Why argue the global warming is not happening? Again, you need to read the articles. I do not say the world hasn't warmed over the past century, just that people are not the major cause for the increase. I am skeptical of the shoddy science behind the IPCC and the other anthropogenic global warming fanatics. I argue that global warming is not the immense, immediate problem portrayed by the Al Gores of the world because there is no convincing scientific evidence supporting that conclusion.
  4. You are concerned about fish, and not the birds and bats? You have a strangely selective sense of morality.
  5. Killing animals in wars for Oil? Take that up on some wacky left-wing conspiracy site like huffingtonpost.com.
  6. I am guided by thirty five years of real world experience as a mathematician, engineer and scientist, backed up by appropriate degrees including a PhD. You?
  7. My alternative to wind? This site has this neat search function—you can use it to find out what my alternatives are. A hint, look at the last picture in the article above.
  8. So you have already decided that solar, tidal and geothermal are good and everything else, including nuclear is bad. This is your opinion, unsupported by any facts. You really need to buy our new book, The Energy Gap. In it you will find information on all of those, and why the energy sources you have emotionally chosen are not sufficient to power the world.
  9. It is provably false that nuclear is 1000s of times more dangerous than wind. In fact, more people have been killed by wind than civilian nuclear power. Get your facts right.
  10. You like the screens on wind turbines idea, eh? I am not surprised.
  11. Case closed? More like mind closed.

It saddens me to see how angry you are, perhaps because you don't understand science and technology, or how the world works. But don't worry, those of us who do study real science are going to ensure there is a future for all mankind, including you—though it probably won't be the future you dream of.

Kidding? no, Delusional? yes

Doug,

As you may be aware by now, the Left is impervious to mere facts. They live in a world of ideological delusion, which on the one hand permits them to smugly preen themselves for their moral superiority, and on the other hand, has no other hand.

They are, in short, clinically insane. Do not bother yourself with them; leave that to their psychiatrists.

Not this lefty

Your site is extremely interesting and full of good information regarding the consequences of many energy types and uses. This "LEFTY" appreciates very much the reasoned and measured tone and the use of science and data to back your take on things. Gracias!

Thank You Doug

It amazes me that Wind and Solar gets a free pass on the environment and Nuclear is hit with restrictions beyond belief.
Here's what Chuck Devore, a state assemblyman from California said about solar thermal in that state:

"And you need to honestly take a look at what's happening out in the desert. I've visited the solar fields out at Cramer Junction. They produce as I recall about 135 MW of power. They are solar thermal fields that have been up probably for about 20 years now. In other words not very much power. And they cover about 1000 acres or so. And what I was struck by when I went out to visit them was the fact that there was no plant or animal life whatsoever underneath those panels. The entire 1000 acre area was a dead zone, because the plants are a fire hazard for the parabolic trough mirrors. And they spray, like an herbicide to keep the plants from growing and to keep the dust down because the dust and sand abrade the mirrors and increases their maintenance costs. And so what I found somewhat interesting was that in that entire area it was devoid of any life. Now people who don't live in the desert may think that's all well and good, there's no life out there anyway, but as a guy who has spent a lot of time out in the eastern High Sierra I can tell you there's a lot of life out there.... How much of the desert are we willing to cover? Because the energy density of solar power is so minimal compared to the energy density of something like nuclear power where you can produce hundreds of times the amount of electricity on a much smaller imprint on the ground...."

Now look at the EPA restrictions on discharging water that has been pumped through a cooler at a power plant. They have regulations and restrictions on much more than just the temperature of the water that a power plant discharges into the river. The regulations are so strict that, in essence, if a commercial power plant took a hose and dropped it into the river, ran it through a water pump (nothing more, just pumped it) they would not be able to discharge this river water back into the river the pumped it out of. Do you wonder why Nuclear is no longer "to cheap to meter?"

"I may not be a very smart man Jenny..."

Although it has a higher return, is it really worth the price of destroying ecosystems with breached containment? Hanford Washington, Sellafield UK, Three Mile Island Disaster, Fukushima Daiichi Disaster, Chernobyl Disaster, Kyshtym Disaster. Many locations un-inhabitable (let me repeat myself un-inhabitable) for thousands of years due to radioactive material.

Wind: Not "green", not "energy"

Birds and bats are not the only ones; the offshore turbine phalanx along the Yorkshire coast is so stressing pregnant seals in the nearby breeding grounds that pups are being born dead or abandoned after birth.

The noise and vibration affects land-dwelling wildlife, too; woods in Maine, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania where turbine plants have been erected have become deserted for three to five miles in all directions from the towers: no deer, no bear, not even raccoons. Livestock on Wisconsin farms near the towers have lost weight, become less productive, and had an increased rate of miscarriages.

Not to mention what the things do to people and viewscapes.

And by a catch-22, more enormous transmission line towers must be built to take the full plate capacity of these monstrosities to the switchyard -- even though they'll produce their full capacity only a tiny fraction of the time, averaging typically ten to twenty percent. And even that small percentage is so vacillating and unreliable as to be completely useless; gas plants -- again capable of the full plate capacity of the wind plant -- has to be kept on warm standby to supplement the turbines.

These wretched eyesores -- Rube Goldberg meets War of the Worlds -- produce nothing useful except corporate subsidies and tax breaks. They cost about $2 million per tower -- to be paid for, of course, by you -- and will cost around $1 million to take down -- which of course nobody will ever do. So our great-grandchildren will look out at a devastated countryside and think, "This must have been so lovely. I wonder what ever possessed them to do this?"

This is criminal lunacy, and would be so even if the AGW superstition were true.

Eagles Lives

How do we as human beings justify making electricity to feed our greed when in the mean time we are allowing endangered species like our sacred messanger the EaglE TO BE SLAUGHTERED. We are willing to kill everything that flies just so we can get some power, When will the madness stop and who is really worse , Them for what they are doing , Or all of us for allowing them to do it.
As a First Nation Representative I am horrified , Shocked and very angry that these Eagles are being simply slaughtered. Eagles are sacred to First Nations and IT HAS GONE TO FAR.
Lets stop the MADNESS,
David Grey Eagle Sanford ,
Toronto Canada,
And now they want to do it here on my homelands,

NEVER,,,,,,,NEVER,,,,,,,NEVER,,,,,,,NEVER,,,,,,NEVER,,,,,

Never

In my homeland, central Wisconsin, the corporate-government complex of vandals has placed 87 of these 400-foot Cuisinarts less than two miles from Horicon Marsh, the largest freshwater marsh in the world and a stopover depended on by millions of Mallards and Canada (you will forgive the expression) Geese.

In your homeland, beautiful Wolfe Island, Ontario, at the source of the St. Lawrence on eastern Lake Ontario, has been transformed from a quiet, rural, tourism-oriented wildlife refuge to a hideous wind wasteland, destroying viewscapes from the historic, picturesque Kingston waterfront to Watertown, NY, twenty miles away.

We find ourselves in the position of having to save the environment from the "environmentalists". Franz Kafka, call your office.

Craig Goodrich
Las Vegas

Wolfe Island

Just recently I began contact with a descendant of a 'lost' family member who came from a poor farming background in East Sussex. He settled on Wolf Island around 1840. and lived there until he died in 1901 aged 81. His life expectancy would have probably half that had he not emigrated. Out of interest I googled the map of the Island and found a photos of the wind farm. Looks like its a perfect place to seriouly damage the life expectancy of a good few migatory birds. Personally, I consider myself an "ecologist", as in France it is 'de riguer' to recycle etc. but after 70 plus years I remain deeply skeptical that 'green alternative energy' will do anything regarding at all except eventually decimate the human population as well as wildlife

Wind loss

Is the worlds weather not driven by wind. Wind as far as I am aware is high pressure moving to low. Everything wants to reach equilibrium so the pressures are trying to equalise.
Sailors off the South Coast of England are complaining they can no longer sail their boats in the lea of the massive wind farms that have sprung up. So thats tells me there is no longer any wind on the downwind side of these farms. So the wind has been stopped. That high pressure is no longer maving towards the low so the low remains low. Is this what is causing the extrem wet weather the UK has been experiencing over the last 2 years. I once found a paper on the net from a US professor who warned of this back in 2004 I believe. I'll try and hunt it out. What he was saying just seemed like common sense to me.