Bird deaths from wind power prompts new rules

Windpower has killed 2,000 golden eagles in California & 500 other birds in Virginia proding conservationist to call for new guidelines.
By Oregon Tax News,

New federal rules instructing wind companies on how to better monitor and reduce the number of wildlife deaths from wind turbines are being worked on by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The new guidelines, which have been under consideration for a year, will increase potential fines for wind companies but will remain voluntary—a move that underscores the challenge regulators face trying to balance competing environmental priorities.

Private wind farms are cropping up across the U.S. as part of the Obama Administration’s push to increase wind energy to 20 percent of the nation’s total energy production by 2030. Consequently, the U.S. has doubled its wind energy, now at 43,000 megawatts of power, over the last three years. There are now roughly 500 wind farms operating 35,000 turbines, and wind energy accounts for three percent of U.S. energy output. That increase, however, has come at a high price in the eyes of some conservationists who say the government has made peace with wind farms’ threat to wildlife for the sake of reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.

In the wake of mounting studies and news reports linking wind turbines to a growing number of deaths of endangered species, conservationists argue that the wind industry should be held accountable to mandatory safety standards. In a Washington Post article earlier this year, a spokesman for the American Bird Conservancy challenged the effectiveness of voluntary industry guidelines, calling the notion of self-regulation “ridiculous.” Following the deaths of 500 birds in one night at the Laurel Mountain wind farm in West Virginia last September, the conservancy renewed its call for “federal operational standards as opposed to the optional, voluntary guidelines that are currently under discussion.”

The wind industry has become more attentive to protecting wildlife in recent years due in part to pressure from conservation groups and government regulators. Among other things, more and more companies closely monitor bird deaths associated with their turbines and are more careful about expanding in highly dense wildlife areas. But conservation groups say the industry’s response is not enough.

The death of protected migratory birds are especially troubling to conservationists. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wind turbines now kill an estimated 440,000 protected migratory birds each year. One of the largest and most scrutinized wind farms in the country is the Altamont Pass in California. Studies estimate that 2,000 or more golden eagles have been killed there in recent years—not to mention other raptors such as owls and hawks.

Industry defenders, however, dispute the overall government numbers, claiming that roughly 150,000 protected birds are killed annually by wind turbines. Moreover, they note that the number of bird deaths from wind farms, while unfortunate, should be kept in perspective relative to other causes of death. Conservatively, an estimated 100 million birds are killed annually in the U.S. flying into glass buildings, 11 million by automobiles, and 10 million by power lines.

While the new rules fall short of some conservancy groups’ expectations, wind companies are concerned the rules will leave them more vulnerable to legal action. Consequently, the industry wants assurance from the government that those who abide by the new rules will have protection from heavy fines and penalties. Regulators have indicated that companies which follow the rules will be a low enforcement priority.

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