I was asked to speak to the Quinte Field Naturalists recently about personal steps towards sustainability. I knew this group had a great many “birders” in it, so I was a bit apprehensive. Birders in my area have been very outspoken against big wind. So let me state three things here first.
- I love wind power. Big, small, local, at my house, in the ocean, in fields, I love wind power. This is my bias.
- Wind turbines kill birds. Not many, but some. How many is what is relevant.
- Big wind turbines take some getting used to. Even though I love the look of big wind turbines, I am the first to admit that when 90 of them went up on Wolfe Island, they changed the look of the landscape. I don’t think it’s in a bad way, but many in my province do.
Ontario is blessed with lots of wind power. Big open areas, especially near large bodies of water, are windy. Ontario includes shoreline on Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. They are great lakes indeed. Not only is it a mind-boggling amount of fresh water, it’s a huge potential clean energy resource because the wind sweeps across these large bodies of water.
Our province enacted “The Green Energy Act” which is one of the most progressive clean power programs in the world. We now have lots of wind turbines and solar panels in service or being planned. The Green Energy Act shifts all the risk for the power generation from the government to individuals and corporations. If you put up a wind turbine, you pay for it, you pay to get the power lines to it, you pay to insure it and all that the province does is commit to purchase the electricity you generate at a fixed price. In a province that is saddled with 10 of billions of dollars worth of debt from our nuclear plants, and 10 of billions of dollars worth of obligations to decommission those plants and dispose of their waste and insure them while they operate, it’s a great deal for taxpayer and ratepayers.
But enough of my proselytizing. People in this province don’t seem to like green energy. Or they claim to be supportive of “wind power” or “hydro power” or “solar power,” just not anywhere near where they live. Europe hasn’t had the kind of push back we have in this province and I don’t understand why it’s so strong here. But the opposition is very vocal.
We hear a lot about wind turbines killing birds. So when I spoke to this group I was expecting pushback on the topic. I decided that I’d better do some research to share with this group.
I found a website for the “Fatal Light Awareness Program” or “FLAP” (http://www.flap.org/) They are a group of birders who are concerned by how many birds get killed by large buildings. Their report states that 14,000 migratory birds die every day in Toronto. There’s photo of just some of the dead birds that they have collected. It’s heart breaking.
Under their “Birds and Buildings” menu they have this “Hierarchy of Threats” chart. It is backed up by this report from the NRC. (Go to http://www.wind-watch.org/docviewer.php and scroll down to find it on the right-hand side NRC_Wind_Report_050307.pdf)
According to this report, collisions with buildings kill 976 million birds a year, high tension wire collisions kill at least 130 million, and on and on. Wind turbines are about .003% of the total. These numbers are likely to grow as the number of turbines increase and wind turbines do kill birds, but apparently much less than other hazards. I’ve never heard anyone in this province suggesting that we take down power lines, buildings, communication towers or that we ban hunting, house cats or vehicles. And yet these obstructions and hazards are a far greater threat to birds than wind turbines.
This website; http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/index.html, has some American stats.
Another important point is that climate change is wreaking havoc on all creatures, especially birds. We had two weeks of summer last March, then the worst heat and drought on record around here. How can that not have a major impact on such a vulnerable creative? Climate change is a far greater risk to birds and wind turbines represent a solution, albeit not the perfect one. I don’t think many people will deny that any more.
An article from the November 2, 2012 Toronto Star entitled “Birders swoop in for diverted flights” talked about the many birders who went to Fort Erie for the opportunity to see birds that they’ve never seen before. Hurricane Sandy had blown these birds to the Great Lakes. Some birds will die because they need food that is only available in salt water. Ron Rideout, a biologist for Bird Studies Canada, is quoted as saying “The Atlantic birds don’t get back home because they generally don’t fly over land and may become confused. They fly around in circles and die of starvation or exhaustion.”
It is important for wind turbines to be located and built properly to limit their risk to migratory birds as much as possible.
Afterwards I spoke individually to a number of people and everyone seemed to have stories about birds at risk. One person told me about his friend whose job involves going out early in the morning, before commuters have arrived, to clean up the dead birds from the night before around tall office buildings. Another person had spent two weeks at an East Coast bird rockery this past summer. He noticed that many of the newly hatched chicks died. He mentioned his observation to a government research scientist and the scientist had observed this as well. The scientist suggested that the warming of the ocean water was causing fish to move further offshore which made it difficult for the parents to find food to feed their young.
I believe those opposed to wind turbines and those in favor of wind turbines share the same desire for a stable climate that birds (and all life on the planet) can thrive in. I sit at my computer and watch birds successfully dodge the guy wires of my wind tower every day. I have never, ever, seen a bird make contact with one of them or a blade on the turbine. I have never found a dead bird or bat at the base of my wind turbine.
As I sit at my computer I often hear the “thud” of a bird that has hit one of my windows. Most of the time they fly off but about once a month I find a dead bird below a window that wasn’t so lucky. My window killed it. And don’t get me started on “Lizzie the Terminator Cat.”
If I was a bird and my option was extinction because of lack of food or other climate-related fate like getting blown hundreds of miles from home in a super storm, versus having to navigate the blades of a wind turbine, I’d take my odds with the turbine every time.
Photo courtesy of Kenneth Herdy/FLAP