Monday, July 27, 2015

Birds vs. Energy

Wind Farm - Wikipedia

A friend was recently reading about the bird deaths from wind turbines and asked how that compared to other sources of electricity The problem is that where ever we humans go, there is damage to nature as it was. It began when the first Homo species discovered fire and started to harvest the energy of wood. As we have gotten more efficient sources of energy, we have also become more efficient in disturbing the ecological system.

There is no question that we occasionally electrocute birds, and squirrels for that matter. Some years back a turkey vulture landed on the big old (1915) steel rig that holds the electric powerline from Powersite Dam to Ozark. It was electrocuted and the short dropped molten copper to the ground where is started a fire between two houses. Fortunately the homeowner saw it and we were able to extinguish it with the help of 3 fire trucks, so the vulture didn't get full revenge on humans for the lousy perch we had built.

There is no question that wind turbines kill birds by the thousands. There are all kinds of estimates out there and I don't recall the number given at a recent Audubon presentation. We are able to modify that with regulations that require factoring in the bird migratory pathways and the design of turbines. One reason you see so many in Western Kansas, in addition to wind patterns is the science involved in placing them where the migratory density is lowest. Also there is more known about the speed of the blades. Faster rotation up to a point produces more energy but beyond that point there is a rapidly diminishing return. Those slowly turning blades you typically see are actually moving at 80-90 mph at the tip!

There is no question that oil and especially coal mining kills far more birds that solar and wind combined. We could (and probably will) double or more the amount of wind power and still not reach the damage of oil for power alone, not to mention the far greater effect of burning coal. See the bird mortality data below compiled by US News and World Report.
A U.S. News and World Report chart shows estimates of how many birds are killed each year by different fuel sources.
As the link above explains, there is a wide range of results based on different methodologies as no common standards of measurement exist. Also, solar and wind based power are expanding so those numbers will go up. That said, these studies do demonstrate the hidden cost of coal and gas based power.

There is a far greater man-made or created killer of birds that we all tend to forget, Felis domesticus, the house cat that came along with our domestication of these predators into household companions. DNA studies suggest that its forbearer was the Near Eastern wildcat Felis silvestris lybica from around Israel and Saudia Arabia.

Nice indoor pets, they turn into ravaging mass murderers outside the house. The best estimates are 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds every year. Note that is a "b" not a "m" as seen with oil and gas.

As my mom used to say "You pays yur money and you makes yur choice." You can learn more about that choice at this US News and World Report article.