November 22, 2004

Watt a sight!

Developers decided in August to proceed with the [Crescent Ridge, Illinois] project despite a pending federal lawsuit alleging environmental irresponsibility, violation of migratory bird and endangered species acts and violation of numerous other state and federal laws. The plaintiff lost a similar state action earlier in the year.

"It would take a pretty stupid bird to fly into one of these things," [Tim] Reder [site manager of the project for Eurus Energy America] said of the giant blades that look more like airplanes and are visible for miles on a clear day. "I'm not saying they don't have a legitimate concern, but if you weigh that bird against what we're doing to our environment ... our dependence on foreign oil."
The story also describes the dense fog in which the construction is taking place, one of the conditions the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) warns about as harmful to birds. Not only will the blades be concealed in fog, the tips will be slashing through the air at 144 mph. The blades of each tower sweeping 1.3 acres of air. And speaking of the "stupidity" of birds, why are lights required on these massive structures? Are airplane pilots also "stupid"?

In fact at least 20 birds per turbine are killed each year, according to studies in Spain and Belgium. The researchers consider that a "conservative" figure; the actual number is probably much larger. FWS has estimated the number to be 37. Not only birds but also bats are killed. At the Mountaineer aerogenerator complex in Tucker County, West Virginia (44 turbines), well over 2000 bats were killed over just 2 months last fall.

Although Mr. Reder betrays his contempt for nature by insisting that only "stupid" birds fly into the blades, and by going ahead with construction despite a federal lawsuit charging violation of environmental laws, he nonetheless trots out the pathetic defense that this industrial development will save even more birds. He knows that the public is eager to relieve their guilt about inordinate energy use and the consequent habitat loss, acid rain, asthma, etc. So he presents his 2,200-acre power plant as absolution for their sins.

Notably, he throws in "our dependence on foreign oil." That may well be a problem, but it is not one where wind power can hope to have an impact. Only 2.4% of our electricity is generated from oil (see earlier post). If wind power were actually able to make a significant contribution (which is by all evidence quite doubtful), it would displace three times more hydro- than oil-generated electricity.

Oil is used for transport and heating, folks, not electricity.