Lobbyists opposed to wind energy often claim that wind turbines are harmful to the bird population. According to them, wind farms that are built along bird migration paths or in bird habitats kill an outrageous number of birds. However, the fact is that millions of birds are killed as a result of other human activities, some of which may be mitigated by the construction of wind farms.
As a matter of fact, ending power generation using fossil fuel and instead using wind farms could save up to 70 million birds every year. Compared to other forms of power generation, wind farms have the least effect on the population of birds and other animals. In the grand scheme of things, wind farms are beneficial to the bird population.
All forms of power generation have an effect on wildlife and biodiversity
It’s practically impossible to generate power on a massive scale without causing some damage to wildlife and biodiversity. Power generation using natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear material, water, and wind, will inevitably impact the environment in a negative way. There is often a threat to the survival of certain species in the given region, but the threat has a geographical limit. Wind farms are unlikely to cause a decline in biodiversity or to threaten endangered species.
The impact of fossil fuel plants compared to wind farms
For every GWh of power that is generated, fossil fuel plants kill up to 17 times more birds than wind farms. In fact, compared to both nuclear and wind energy, fossil fuel kills way more birds for every unit of power that’s generated. A 2011 report on renewable energy showed that more than 14,260TWh of power is generated per year from fossil fuel. Based on that finding, experts estimate that the lives of 70 million birds could be saved every year if wind farms were to be used in place of fossil fuel plants.
Wind farms versus other human activities
It’s undeniable that human activities cause the deaths of an extremely high number of birds. Every year, between 97 million and 976 million birds fly into glass windows and end up dead. It’s also estimated that close to 174 million birds are killed every year by tension wires. Feral and domestic cats prey on birds, and it’s estimated that they kill up to 500 million birds annually. An additional 60 million birds are killed upon impact with cars every year. Also, thanks to agricultural activities, 72 million birds die due to exposure to pesticides and other farm chemicals. To compound the problem, birds face the threat of a loss of habitat due to acid rain, coal mining and deforestation.
Wind turbines kill between 20,000 and 33,000 birds a year in the United States, which means they probably kill about 150,000 birds worldwide every year. That is almost insignificant given the fact that close to 1.5 billion birds die every year. Lobby groups opposed to wind energy often exaggerate the number of birds that are killed in turbines for their own interests.
A 2009 study using European and US data on bird deaths estimated the number of birds killed per unit of power generated by wind, fossil fuel and nuclear power systems.
It concluded wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while fossil-fuelled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh.
That’s nearly 15 times more. From this, the author estimated wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000 and fossil-fuelled power plants 14.5 million.
In other words, for every one bird killed by a wind turbine, nuclear and fossil fuel powered plants killed 2,118 birds.
Innovations in the wind farm industry
Researchers in the wind industry are coming up with innovations to help reduce the number of birds that die in wind turbines. So far, they have come up with a few promising solutions, including painting turbine blades with colors that are unattractive to birds, and using radar to assess the behavior of birds in the vicinity of the wind farms.
Annual human-related causes of avian deaths, Canada http://www.ace-eco.org/vol8/iss2/art11/