New visitors to the Midwest are often left speechless by the wide open spaces and the endless vistas uninhibited by trees and big buildings. I love living in a place that has room to stretch out, with lots of fresh air to breathe and nature to enjoy. The one complaint in my area of South Dakota, however, is the wind. No matter the season, the wind blows here, and there’s not much to block it.
All that constant wind, however, can be a source of energy. And with government policy that supports their development, wind turbines seem to be sprouting like dandelions across the U.S.
While wind turbines offer a green alternative to fossil fuels, they also have their drawbacks. For instance, the wind doesn’t “always” blow. Plus, some folks consider them unsightly, and others complain of the noise the huge turbine wings make as they rotate. These installations also tend to be located in areas well away from cities, where the real power challenges are. And then there’s the issue of the dangers they present to our flying friends such as migrating birds and bats.
In fact, recent research in the Journal of Raptor Research states that windmills have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years. That figure could actually be much higher, the article says, and Mike Parr of the American Bird Conservancy, calls the tally, "an alarming and concerning finding.”
And the U.S. Department of Interior reports that fatalities of bats, which are beneficial consumers of agricultural insect pests, have now been documented at most wind facilities in the U.S. and Canada. And it's estimated that tens to hundreds of thousands of bats die at wind turbines in North America each year.
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Well, the federal government recently announced the first-ever criminal enforcement of bird-protection laws at a wind energy facility by fining North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp., $1 million for killing more than 150 migratory birds. This included 14 golden eagles, at two Wyoming wind farms over the past few years, according to Phil Taylor, E&E Publishing, LLC, reporter.
“The government's plea agreement with Duke Energy Corp. could have broad legal implications as the Obama administration and the wind industry grapple with the ecological trade-offs of building commercial-scale wind farms across the landscape. The penalty sends a clear message that wind farms, despite their climate benefits as a source of renewable energy, are no longer exempt from a 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act that protects more than 1,000 migratory bird species.”
At the same time, however, the Obama administration reportedly is moving toward finalizing a rule that would give alternative energy farms a pass for killing bald and golden eagles for decades, just weeks after it took legal action for the first time against a company for doing so. See the article here.
Of course, these companies should do their best to protect wildlife, but wind energy is also a beneficial energy source for many, as well as a boost to small rural communities. It will be interesting to see how the Duke Energy case turns out and its ramifications.
What’s your opinion of wind turbines? Do you like the extra revenue they provide? Do you think they are more trouble than the money they bring in? Do you think they are loud and/or ruin the landscape? Do you think they are environmentally dangerous? Do you think the benefits of the alternative energy source outweigh the downsides? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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