Wind Power More Important Than Wildlife Conservation?

Wind Power Vs Wildlife Conservation

Lately it seems like wind power may be more important than conserving wildlife resources. It may be cleaner and less expensive than using fossil fuels, but what are the costs of possibly damaging the fragile web of how life exists within an ecosystem? The issue at heart also seems to depend on how many wind turbines exist within a habitat in place of trees and other previously existing natural structures.

The U.S. Interior Department passed a ruling on Friday allowing wind farms to obtain 30-year permits, along with other projects, which have the potential to kill federally protected bald eagles, bats, other birds, and even golden eagles. As long as the turbine farms follow certain criteria for wind power, they have the go ahead no matter the impact on local wildlife. A variety of birds and bats can be killed by the spinning blades of these large turbines that have become common in the nations landscapes.

This ruling is a huge victory for the wind industry, but spokesmen for the National Audubon Society say sadly the result will be a lot more bird kills, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does explain that having a legal process in place makes it easier to prosecute a wind farm seeking the all mighty wind power if that farm breaks any of the rules. In order for any of the wind farms to obtain the necessary permits, they need to show that they are taking the proper steps to preserve wildlife in their area of operation.

According to Peter Kelley, Vice-President of Public Affairs for the American Wind Association, wind farms have to show the government that they are trying to prevent as many kills as possible by preserving the habitat surrounding the turbines. Furthermore, a variety of environmentalists say renewable energy sources, such as wind power turbines, solar arrays, hydroelectric dams and other cleaner energy sources are much safer to use than oil or other fossil fuels. Government officials say they are trying to develop renewable energy as part of a responsible environmental plan in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, the Interior Department has received 15 applications from wind power companies, military bases and utilities for the original five-year permit since the act was created in 2009.  So far, no permit has been granted. The wind power companies have to show they have a mitigation plan in place for wildlife preservation and then undergo a complex review from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; to date, only one application has even made it to the public review stage. There is a rule within the new 30-year permit allowing wind power companies to be reviewed every five years. On the other hand, the government has issued many short-term permits for wind farms which have resulted in wildlife kills; however, they claim that they do not see any negative impacts on eagle populations.

The new rules that have been put into place by the Justice Department may help pressure wind farms to obtain the proper permits in order to avoid prosecution. Last November, a wind power farm, Duke Energy Corp., in Wyoming, pleaded guilty to killing birds at one of its locations which were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and had to pay a $1 million fine. Before that, wind power farms have not been prosecuted under the Act.

So, when looking at the rules within the laws of obtaining wind power, it does seem that fairly strong sanctions are put into place to help protect our wildlife resources; however, people do need to keep in mind that the use of such powerful wind turbines has not been around for very long. Due to that specific reason, there lacks extensive, investigative data regarding the long-term use of wind power turbines and the impact these turbines have on wildlife conservation.

By Tina Elliott

The Wall Street Journal

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