When the wind energy industry was in its infancy, I was fresh out of college and studying raptors—eagles, hawks and falcons—near Altamont, California. I didn’t think much about the wind turbines, aside from thinking they were an eyesore.
That changed when the data began to emerge about how wind turbines annually kill millions of birds and thousands of raptors—the birds I have spent my life trying to save. Every time I see a wind turbine now, it reminds me that this industry is an affront to nearly everything I stand for.
Since 1995 many thousands of eagles have been collected from wind farm freezers by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and then shipped off to Denver’s eagle repository. My estimate is that over 30,000 eagle carcasses have been picked up from wind farms since 1995. Across the world dozens of endangered species are being pushed to extinction from wind turbines.
The policy that has helped advance the industry is called the federal Production Tax Credit, and it has poured billions of taxpayer dollars to fuel the rapid building of wind turbines across the country. It’s time to end the PTC.
I admit as a young man I didn’t see this coming. At 24, I was already an expert of raptors and their habitat requirements. I had located hundreds of raptor nests throughout California, Idaho, Nevada, and all the way up into Alaska. These were the homes of many elusive raptor species that included golden eagles, sharp-shinned hawks, and even peregrine falcons when only five eyries existed in California.
In 1979, after completing my last golden eagle observations near Altamont Pass, I moved from the Bay Area to Northern California.
Several years later I began hearing about Altamont’s turbines killing golden eagles. While this was terrible news, I just figured with eagles involved, the public outcry would send this industry packing. I also still had a belief that science and conservation groups, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, would take care of this avian nightmare.
I would have been more involved with Altamont if I hadn’t been so immersed in my other wildlife studies in rural Northern California. This included new golden eagle studies, deer herd research and I was very busy exposing the California Department of Fish and Game’s fraudulent deer management documents. With this preoccupation, I had no idea that the widespread killing of birds by wind farms would be almost completely ignored as the growth of the industry exploded.
I woke up to this in 2008 when the Hatchet Ridge Wind Farm was pushed through the development process into Shasta County. I tried to open some eyes about how these turbines impact wildlife, but my efforts fell on deaf ears. The Shasta County Supervisors gave Australian Wind Developer, Babcock and Brown, permission to erect 43 wind turbines—each about 400 feet tall—in golden eagle, bald eagle, spotted owl and peregrine falcon habitat.
This decision was my motivation to review all the scientific wind energy research I could find. What I found wasn’t credible. There were inconsistencies, flawed data, and poor study designs that indicated a desire for the studies to report the lowest possible impacts on the birds. With wind industry research, far more questions were raised than answered.
As the industry’s fleet of new turbines grew, the quality of the industry’s bird mortality research continued to erode. This was especially the case with East Coast and Texas research.
New studies continued to be manufactured to deflect from “green” energy’s hidden mortality. Some of it was peer reviewed. But all this really meant was that “experts” were signing off on nonscientific research with highly suspect methodologies.
There was one American study, however, that stood out above all others. To this day, it is the most scientifically credible turbine mortality study conducted (McCrary) I have found. It was conducted in Southern CA around small turbines and the results were published in 1986. This study estimated a mortality rate of 6,800 fatalities annually from about 150-200 MW of small 40-100 kW turbines at San Gorgonio Pass. Using daily searches of 50-meter search areas around these tiny turbines, and with no wind farm personnel handling carcasses, this study estimated mortality rate of 34-45 birds per MW, with the majority of these fatalities being nocturnal migrants.
The PTC is set to expire at the end of this year. But wind energy proponents, ignoring the effects of wind turbines on birds, are already pushing Congress to renew this subsidy. Taxpayer advocates have the right to be upset about this.
But what concerns me most is that the extension of the PTC will continue to fuel the deaths of millions of birds while pretending to help save the planet.