Wind power is supposed to be good, allegedly a no brainer for environmentalists. The main reason for this support is wind energy has a very small carbon footprint which helps solve the global warming crisis. Currently scientists report that if we do nothing to slow global warming 50% of all species on the planet could perish by the year 2100. So, it may be confusing when people hear that environmentalists are disputing a wind project. How can this happen?
General consensus agrees that the controversy over wind power started with the ill placed wind project at Altamont Pass, CA in the 1970’s. The turbines were small, very fast, and placed in the worst location possible: a migratory bird path and home to prey animals for raptors. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that the Altamont Pass Wind Farm is the deadliest wind farm in the country responsible for approximately 1000 bird collision deaths each year.
The problem persisted for more than 20 years before a reasonable solution was adopted in 2005 by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. They passed a well developed bird management plan demanding that the 100-200 oldest and deadliest turbines be replaced with more technologically advanced turbines that were higher off the ground, very slow, and easier for the birds to avoid. The design of turbine towers have been made more bird friendly by exchanging the latticed towers with smooth ones that the birds can not perch on. In addition, half the turbines must be switched off during migration periods to allow spaces between the turbines.
Many hard lessons were learned from Altamont pass, aka do not create a solid wall of turbine blades and avoid high migratory bird routes. Other advancements include electromagnetic devices which warn bats away from the turbines. The photo above contains not a broken wind turbine but a unique solution to migratory birds. When migration begins a switch allows the turbine to bend down, minimizing the potential for collisions. The blades of the wind turbines on the Galapagos Islands are painted bright colors to increase the contrast from the background. These are all steps in the right direction. After all, we are switching to clean renewable energy to save species, not sacrifice them.
Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.