Environmentalism needs dose of common sense
Of all the reasons to oppose wind-farm development — unsightliness, shadows, noise, flying ice and their lack of consistent production — we'd argue the threat they pose to our feathered friends is by far the most overblown.
But bird enthusiasts have been successful in throwing up roadblocks to wind development. Case in point: On April 4, Xcel Energy abandoned its plan for a $400 million, 150-megawatt wind farm in southeast North Dakota, a project that would have helped the utility company meet Minnesota's requirement that by 2020, it will generate 30 percent of its power from renewable sources. In announcing its change in plans, Xcel cited "uncertainty in the cost and timing in mitigating" the project's impact on birds.
And it's not enough to merely nix existing projects. The American Bird Conservancy, which reports with great gravity and mournfulness that wind turbines kill 400,000 birds per year, actually wants federal regulators to consider requiring radar systems at wind farms. When a flock of birds approaches, the radar would shut the turbines down automatically.
Is 400,000 a lot of birds? Well, consider that the same American Bird Conservancy also contends that free-ranging cats kill a half-billion birds each year in the United States. Perhaps we should ban felines, or at least pass federal laws requiring them to be declawed and kept indoors every minute of their lives.
Or consider this little bit of trivia: A zoology professor at Muhlenburg College in Allentown, Pa., has studied bird mortality for more than 20 years. Dr. Daniel Klem found that one culprit is to blame for nearly 1 billion avian deaths per year — more than cats, hunters, automobiles and wind turbines combined. And unless you live in a cave, you probably have contributed to this carnage.
The culprit? Glass windows. The average bird is far more likely to meet its demise against a patio door or picture window than a wind turbine blade. Yet, when last we checked, no one has introduced any legislation that would require us to replace our window panes with plastic wrap.
We're not suggesting that wind farms should be set up with complete disregard for the flight patterns of birds. Wind-swept bluffs along the Mississippi River might be great places to produce electricity, but they would take a higher-than-acceptable toll on waterfowl and eagles. Common sense should prevail.
But let's try to keep things in perspective. What would cause more environmental impact: A new wind farm or a new coal-fired power plant that requires coal to be mined, transported via diesel-powered trains, then burned (causing carbon emissions, release of mercury and other pollution). Then something has to be done with the ash.
Wind energy is still in its infancy in the United States, and the jury is still out as to whether it will someday be able to stand on its own financially and play a major role in weaning us off of fossil fuels. But if developers and utility companies have to waste time and money fighting unnecessary and often frivolous legal battles, then we better start building more nuclear plants and coal-burners right now.