Disadvantages of Wind Energy and the Endangered Species Act

Before we discuss the disadvantages of wind energy, we should consider the positive green side to this ecofriendly technology.

Wind energy is the world's fastest growing alternative energy.  In the United States alone, from 1980 through 2007, installed wind energy capacity increased from zero to more than 16,800 megawatts (MW).

To help put that in perspective, one MW of wind power is enough to power 230 homes.  This increase in wind energy use is largely due to:

  • Rising Energy Costs
  •    A want to decrease domestic dependence on foreign oil
  • Government incentives
  •      A growing population of environmentalists concerned with air quality, climate change, and fossil fuels
  • Advances in wind turbine technology have made wind power more reliable, efficient, cost-effective, and competitive against conventional methods of energy production such as coal and natural gas.

Despite the many advantages to wind energy, there are a few disadvantages of wind energy we are aware of. The disadvantages of wind energy include endangering protected species, such as avian birds, raptors, and bats.  Wind towers are very tall, so they pose a danger to these birds and bats. 

Studies show high levels of bird and bat deaths at wind farms in California and Appalachia. Studies on wind facilities in other regions of the country show lower mortality levels.  While the most frequent fatalities at wind farms are night-migrating passerines, this is not the case at the Altamont Pass wind facility in northern California, where over 1000 raptors die annually. 

These avian and bat deaths have gone on for over twenty years in some regions.  For example, there have been over 2000 bat deaths at sixty-four wind turbines over a six-week period at wind facilities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The most damaging impact of the disadvantages of wind energy is being felt by raptors and bats, due to their long lives and low productive rates.  Furthermore, little is known about bat movement, migration, and behavior, thus making effective avoidance and mitigation planning difficult, if not impossible.

This has brought the wind industry into contact with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Enforcing the ESA is the job of the Department of the Interior and the National Marine Fisheries Service ("NMFS").  Their stated mission is to "provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved." 

In other words they are here to make sure human behavior in this nation does not kill off endangered species.  But, after almost ten years of policy development, permitting, and litigation, there is still no comprehensive, tested, reliable set of guidelines for commercial wind power in America.

Despite the disadvantages of wind energy regarding birds and bats, there are some that have asked the question: should we give the wind power industry a “green pass” in regards to ESA regulation and control?  Should the agencies involved with writing the standards for ESA regulation simply step out-of-the-way, due to the overall needs and benefits of wind energy?  Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of wind power?

Based on the fact that both the top wind energy companies and the many environmental organizations involved have a committed stance to conserving endangered species, the “green pass” is unlikely to happen. 

As this point, both commercial and government agencies are working on implementing new methods of detecting migration patterns so they can build their wind infrastructures in a way that protects the birds and bats from the disadvantages of wind power. 

While at the same time, the dedication to innovative and environmentally safe methods of wind power generation and distribution, will continue to lead the human evolution into a sustainable tomorrow. 

Main Sources for this Article: Academic Journals “Environmental Law” and “Vanderbilt Law Review”

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