“Even Green projects have an impact on their surrounding environment.” Green energy, specifically so-called renewables, has been sold to the American public as the answer to a host of crimes against the planet. But, as Lex Berko points out in her post on Motherboard, “even Green” has its downside. Biomass may be “renewable,” but burning it releases CO2. Then, it’s expensive: “A 100% renewable-energy mix from in-state sources could cost up to five times more,” reports the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). And, energy from wind and solar sources kills birds.
Wind turbines chop up bald and golden eagles, and other endangered species, like a Cuisinart—the taller turbines with longer blades (which produce more energy, and, therefore, is where the trend is heading) have a predicted annual ten-fold mortality increase. The authors of a new study on bird collision mortality at wind facilities concludes: “Given that we found evidence for increased bird mortality with increasing height of monopole turbines along with a move toward increasing turbine size, we argue that wildlife collision risk should be incorporated with energy efficiency considerations when evaluating the ‘greenness’ of alternative wind energy development options.” If the Department of Energy were to meet its 2030 goal of having 20% of the nation’s electricity generated from wind, they project: “a mean annual mortality estimate of roughly 1.4 million birds.”
Hundreds of acres of photovoltaic solar panels confuse migratory water birds, such as the “once-critically endangered brown pelican whose lifestyle involves fishing by diving into open water,” to veer miles out of their way to dive toward what they perceive are lakes or wetlands—only to die from “blunt force trauma.” At the largest solar thermal plant in the world, Ivanpah, owned by BrightSource Energy, the 170,000 reflecting mirrors—designed to “superheat liquid in boilers”—literally fries feathers. USA Today reports that the intense radiation—called solar flux—has singed some birds, melted feathers, and denatured the protein in their wings as they fly through the intense heat. Unable to fly, the injured birds drop out of the sky and die.
The federally Endangered Yuma clapper rail, the dramatic-looking black-crowned night heron, double-crested cormorant, red-breasted merganser, American coots, warblers, goldfinches, a common raven, and a barn owl—just to name a few, may get a reprieve from being lured to their death by solar power plants.
USA Today references a “solar-industrial corridor” along I-10 in Riverside County, California, which was to have 80% of its 148,000 acres covered with solar panels or mirrors. However, it reports: “Today, that seems unlikely. Industry trends are toward smaller solar projects, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) loan-guarantee program has ended.” (Remember, last week, I reported on the crony corruption behind the loan approval process for BrightSource’s Ivanpah project.)
Additionally, Friday, December 13, was unlucky for the solar industry—but lucky for the birds. Giving official recognition of the threat solar power tower projects pose to wildlife, The California Energy Commission announced that it is “likely to deny approval to a major Riverside County solar power project that has been criticized for posing an unacceptable risk to birds and other wildlife.”
The bald and golden eagles aren’t so lucky. The Friday before, December 6, the Obama Administration announced an extension of the existing 5-year eagle take permit. Effective immediately, the new rule issued by the Department of Interior (DOI) will grant 30-year permits allowing wind farms to “accidently kill federally protected eagles.” The “rule” is in direct violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act passed by Congress in 1940. Once again, executive action trumps the law. The DOI decision prompted this response from Mike Daulton, vice president of government relations for the National Audubon Society: “This is going to lead to more dead eagles—plain and simple.”
To encourage Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reverse the decision, the National Audubon Society has set up a direct email option with a customizable letter to Secretary Jewell that states: “The 30-year permit rule is a blank check for the wind industry and provides no comfort or confidence at all that you will be protecting America’s majestic Bald and Golden Eagles and safeguarding their populations.”
Like the expiration of the DOE loan guarantee program has increased the likelihood populations of migratory birds will survive death by renewables, the pending expiration of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy could help the eagles and other raptors that are attracted to the towering turbines.
A December 12 WSJ editorial, “Powering Down the Wind Subsidy,” points out, as the subtitle states: “How Congress can achieve something by doing nothing.” The WSJ is encouraging Congress to “do nothing” and allow the PTC to expire as scheduled on December 31—which would save taxpayers $18 billion over the next 5 years. Expire it may, as the current budget deal takes away last minute negotiations that got it extended last year—but that doesn’t mean it is really gone.
The PTC has expired several times in its 20-year history and has always been extended retroactively—which is what we may be facing this year. The WSJ states: “The wind lobby is now trying to get the subsidy included in a January ‘tax extender’ package and made retroactive.”
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on December 13, for the first time hinted, according to Politico.com, that he may push the Senate to consider a tax extenders package. Wyden said: “If you didn’t have tax reform and you didn’t have extenders, you’d do crushing damage to solar, wind, and renewables.” No mention was made of the “crushing damage” to America’s migratory bird population or to the bald and golden eagles.
Wyden will likely have his way. As I’ve written previously, Republicans generally oppose government subsidies and support the energy that actually works, and Democrats, like Wyden, tend to favor government giveaways and support the energy that they “hope” will “change” and actually work. There are plenty of Republicans who will help him push the “extenders” package and give the PTC back (despite the probable expiration on December 31).
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, where the PTC extension originates, and he recently predicted a PTC extension. With just a handful of Republicans, such as Orrin Hatch (UT), Pat Roberts (KS), John Thune (SD), and Mike Crapo (ID)—all of whom voted for the extension in 2012, the PTC could be hailed a “bipartisan victory.”
Think of the millions of birds being killed by renewables. Think of the billions of taxpayer dollars that have gone down the drain in “the quest for the holy grail of cheap renewable power.” Whether you oppose death by renewables for avian or economic reasons isn’t important. But what does matter is making your opposition heard. Send your customizable National Audubon Society letter to Secretary Jewell and contact the Republican Senators listed above and tell them to stop supporting wind welfare.