There is a narrative on Wind turbines that we hear so often: Wind turbines are clean and green, and they help us tackle climate change through emission-free energy generation.
Anything contrary to that narrative might seem untrue, especially after mainstream media’s relentless promotion of the narrative for the past one decade or so.
As a young field ecologist, I’ve witnessed and studied about bird collision mortalities in the most serene Special Protected Area for bird conservation at Alentejo, Portugal. My Master’s thesis involved assessing the collision mortality of birds with artificial structures (especially electric lines and fences), thus requiring me to do detailed studies on the susceptibility of birds to artificial structures and the subsequent impact on breeding, migration, and overall survival.
For me, and many other wildlife conservationists, it is not a surprise when we hear about wind turbines killing birds. However, in a world where Wind energy is promoted as the savior, many are not ready to accept this dirty fact about wind turbines.
But it is time to acknowledge that Wind (Energy) is not green and clean. It might sound absurd or shocking to some readers, but that is the reality and the facts confirm this undeniable truth.
The Obvious Yet Untold: Wind Turbines are Bird Killers
Wildlife conservationists hate Wind turbines for their infamous role as bird killer, a fact that is very rarely mentioned in the news media.
Pro-renewable lobbies argue that there are many causes for bird mortality and that the mortality contribution from Wind Turbines is quite insignificant. However, people who do actual ground work in protecting these birds–biologists, bird conservationists, wildlife ecologists, and non-profit organizations–disagree with this argument.
According to experts, Wind turbines pose a significant risk to birds, especially to large raptors, birds of prey, and other migratory soaring birds. Even in a very high quality habitat, Wind turbines cause disproportionate increases in collision mortality. Besides direct injury and deaths, Wind farm turbines also cause functional habitat loss for migratory soaring birds, leading to significant damage to flocks.
In the U.S., the government is well aware of the Wind turbine potential to kill birds in large numbers. So much so that Wind operators have been allotted bird-kill quotas which indicate the number of birds that the wind operator is allowed to kill in a year.
It is a fact that is so well established, that researchers no longer ponder if Wind turbines kill or not. They have moved on to addressing how to minimize these deaths and finding solutions for more efficient ways to calculate the collision mortality rates. Countries like India are even planning to introduce guidelines to protect birds from wind mills.
A 2019 study estimated that wind turbines affect the life and habitat of around 150,000 birds in the U.S. annually. But the numbers are only going to get higher, as more wind turbines will be installed in the U.S. (Installed wind energy capacity in the United States doubled from 2012 to 2020). The American Bird Conservancy predicts that if 20 percent of the nation’s electricity comes through wind power it will potentially kill at least one million birds per year by 2030.
The same has been true in other parts of the world. A study on 125 wind turbines in Ethiopia revealed that they had been responsible for deaths of at least 35 different bird species. A similar 4-year study in a South African wind farm found that 130 different species were killed at the wind farm, with a potential to kill 50 more species in the coming years. Among those killed were two species endemic to South Africa: Cape Vultures and Black Harriers.
Germany, home to half of the global breeding population of Red Kites, witnesses a very high collision mortality of the Red Kites. In Spain, collision mortality studies between 1993 and 2003 proved that there was “no long-term temporal changes in birds’ reactions to wind farms, implying that birds did not habituate to the presence of turbines.” This means wind farms will pose a existential threat to the birds until they are decommissioned and removed.
Some have suggested that Wind turbines could be stopped whenever flocks of birds approach them, thus reducing collision mortality. However, new studies reveal that bird collision mortality risk from wind turbines remains the same regardless of whether the blades are moving or not.
Wind Farms Kill in the Seas Too
A recent study on offshore wind farms (those in sea) revealed that 1. Wind farms act as visual stimulus, that may or may not result in an avoidance response, 2. Could result in physical habitat loss/modification or gain, and 3. Causes collision mortality.
The study concluded, “individual wind farms may have minor effects on the environment, but collectively, many of these developments, especially spread out to confront individuals from a migratory avian population along the entire length of its migration corridor may have a significant effect. This effect may be far greater than the sum of the individual parts acting alone, especially if contributing adversely to the fitness of many individuals.”
Last week, RSPB–Europe’s most prominent conservation organization that has been into protecting birds since 1889–expressed concerns over the UK government’s proposed move to expand offshore windmills.
Gareth Cunningham, the principal marine policy officer of RSBP, commented, “Areas suitable for wind farm development also happen to be foraging areas for these seabirds. They could also act as barrier in term of visual impacts. Seabirds will fly around wind farms in foraging areas so they spend more energy and during nesting season will spend a longer period of time away from the nest. Ultimately this increases the chance a chick will starve, and so we are seeing a reduction in the number of chicks they have each year.”
Stop Denying and Start Acting: Shut the Wind Farms
The mainstream media may deny the blood on the blades, but it is an ever-present danger to conservation efforts, especially to those species which are of importance for conservation.
Real nature lovers, and those who wholeheartedly support conservation efforts to save birds, will heed to the scientist’s warnings. They will stand for the protection of birds and condemn the unhinged promotion of Wind energy as a clean energy source despite their proven track record of killing birds.
It is time we as a society face up to the inconvenient and inescapable truths concerning Wind Turbines. The solution though is more simpler than we think: As scientists say, keep the bird habitats and migratory routes free of wind energy developments.