Fowl Play: Wind Farms Unfairly Targeted by Fossil Fuel Industry

Courtesy: TN Valley Infrastructure Group

As addressed in an earlier post, wind energy does not cause population level threats to birds and accounts for an extremely small percentage of unnatural avian mortality. In fact, wind energy (void of air and water pollution) is considered to be one of the lowest-impact electricity resources. Even though major bird conservation groups and ornithological experts recognize the importance of a wind energy future, bird impacts with wind turbines remains a major talking point for wind power opponents. So, who is behind this misinformation campaign against wind energy and why?

It might come as no surprise that many anti-renewable energy studies and articles are funded by fossil fuel power lobbyists. The American wind industry’s recent cost-competitive success caused it to become the number one source of new U.S. electric generating capacity in 2012 (now representing over 60,000 megawatts of energy). Last year, The Guardian released a confidential memo providing evidence that fossil-fuel funded groups were strategizing together to build a movement of wind energy farm protestors here in the United States. William I. Koch, billionaire investor in the fossil fuel industry, has spent over a decade protesting the Cape Wind project by spending over $5 million in an attempt to derail the project.

In an effort to fuel a movement against wind energy, many articles have surfaced that overstate the impacts wind turbines have on birds regardless of the facts. Last year the Washington Times published a misleading column by Paul Driessen of the Committee for Construction Tomorrow–a fossil-fuel funded group dedicated to disputing climate science. Deep pockets are fueling this misinformation surrounding wind turbines and birds in order to deter from the reality: fossil fuels are the greater energy threat to bird populations and could cause global extinctions.

A study in Energy Policy, found that  fossil-fueled power plants, on a per unit of energy basis, are estimated to kill 17 times more birds than wind energy. So for every megawatt hour of electricity from a wind farm that replaces fossil fuels, seventeen times as many birds may be saved. Another study provided by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority looked at six electricity generation types and their impacts on vertebrate wildlife. The research concluded that wind energy does not create a population-level threat to birds and, “non-renewable electricity generation sources, such as coal and oil, pose higher risks to wildlife than renewable electricity generation sources, such as hydro and wind.”

Source: NYSERDA 2009

The dirty extraction process (not necessary with wind energy) associated with fossil fuel mining is one of the major causes of avian mortality. Coal mining creates a great threat to bird populations due to major habitat loss. According to the American Bird Conservancy, there were 1,200 mines found in the  Appalachia region from 1992-2002 and “…380,574 acres of forest habitat were destroyed for the purpose of mountaintop removal…”

Oilfield production is another threat to birds. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, “every year an estimated 500,000 to 1 million birds are killed in oilfield production skim pits, reserve pits, and in oilfield wastewater disposal facilities…” Over 1,500 migrating ducks were recently killed when they landed in a pollutant-filled reservoir linked to an Alberta oil sands facility.

Coal, oil, and other fossil fuel energy sources have major individual impacts on bird populations, but together these carbon-emitting fuels are the major driver of climate change–one of the greatest threats to bird populations according to a study by the National Wildlife Federation. The majority of American conservancy organizations recognize the link between fossil fuel energy and the impact global warming could have on bird populations across the country.

The Audubon Society concludes,

“Most of today’s rapidly growing demand for energy is now being met by natural gas and expanded coal-burning power plants, which are this country’s single greatest source of the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming. If we don’t find ways to reduce these emissions, far more birds–and people–will be threatened by global warming than by wind turbines.” 

With this overwhelming evidence that fossil fuels are causing great damage to bird populations, it’s no wonder that the fossil fuel industry is desperate to point the finger somewhere else.

Wind energy, on the other hand, is a 100% clean energy source that is far less harmful to birds than the energy it displaces. In 2012, the electricity generated by wind energy helped to avoid 98.9 million metric tons of C02–equivalent to taking 17.4 million cars off the road. Looking past the anti-wind rhetoric and fossil fuel funded bias, it’s clear that wind energy has the opportunity to save more birds than it harms by displacing traditional energy sources and creating a healthier and cleaner environment.

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Indeed wind energy does threaten population levels of birds including endangered species. While wind energy requires fossil fuel back-up as it’s a redundant energy source, thus will not reduce our dependency on fossil fuels as an add-on in economic and environmental impact terms.

Let’s hear the truth about wind energy that requires the processing of steel, concrete and manufacturing of massive fiberglass blades that cannot be recycled, and vessels to transport components from foreign countries to the U.S. These activities are the EPA’s top emissions offenders. Wind turbines use rare earth minerals, and mining them is toxic to the environment. As 97% of rare earth minerals are mined in China, wind energy makes us dependent on them to manufacture components.

Cape Wind is a proposed ecological sink that should never be constructed in the area with endangered species present, Nantucket Sound, according to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC).

“American Bird Conservancy is disappointed in the Department of the Interior decision to approve the Cape Wind Project because the science collected for the project on bird collision threats is inadequate, and the site will reduce prime offshore sea-duck foraging habitat. Further, there are data to suggest that loons will likely abandon the area for years to come, and there may be significant impacts to endangered Roseate Terns , which breed in nearby Buzzard’s Bay and feed in Nantucket Sound,” said Dr. Michael Fry Director of Conservation Advocacy for American Bird Conservancy.

Mass Audubon’s testimony to federal regulators indicates massive annual bird kills by Cape Wind’s 130 wind turbines:

“By utilizing other bird mortality data provided in the DEIS, Mass Audubon staff scientists arrived at avian mortalities that ranged from 2,300 to 6,600 collision deaths per year.”

Leave “small footprints” on the Earth, not massive industrial installations, if you truly want to be “green”.

Comment by Barbara Durkin on November 6, 2013 9:30 am

Thanks for your comments all the way from Massachusetts.

In my pervious blog entry ( on wind turbines and birds, I addressed the fact that wind turbines do not cause “population level” threats to birds through multiple scientific studies.




I don’t see you providing scientific journal articles or studies to indicate this is not the case.

Additionally, Mass Audubon supports wind farms (–including Cape Wind–so it appears you are intentionally distorting their position to fit your needs. We live in a world where electricity is key, and we must make decisions about an energy future that is not only better for wildlife, but also better for our own health. As addressed in this blog entry, wind energy is one of the lowest impact electricity sources, and as we add more wind power to the grid, we decrease the use and need for fossil fuels. All power plants need backup and all power plants require steel and concrete. No electricity source is totally void of environmental impacts, but it’s clear that switching to wind energy (and well as other renewable energy options), is the path to leaving a “smaller footprint” and a cleaner environment.

Comment by Allie Brown on November 6, 2013 3:48 pm

Ms. Durkin trots out a tired anti-wind myth regarding backup. In reality, wind farms don’t require any more backup than coal or nuclear plants do until they are supplying a very large percentage energy, and when wind energy drops, it’s predictable and minor, unlike major transmission or generation failures.

As Ms. Brown points out, wind energy is the best source of utility scale generation for wildlife including birds. That’s reality.

Comment by Mike Barnard on November 6, 2013 9:52 pm


My information comes from boots on the ground biologists at wind projects who are not owned by the wind industry.
It’s not possible for me to distort MA Audubon’s Cape Wind position, conflicted, as they’re advocating that up to 6,600 birds die per year by Cape Wind by their support of this project in their testimony and in their press releases. Do you really think that killing up to 6,600 birds per year, where the roseate tern is at the brink of extinction, and taking marine mammals by harassment, pile driving squid spawning grounds and Essential Fish Habitat, pile driving federally recognized Tribes’ ancient remains, creating a navigational hazard (all three local airports’ officials and the carriers of 3 million passengers per year testimony, and the termination of use rights by commercial and recreational users, destruction of the economic engine, Nantucket Sound, triple the current cost of energy AFTER public subsidies, is the way to go?

The more one knows about Cape Wind the more clearly they understand that this is Pandora’s Box, the Solyndra of the Sea, ecological and economic, trades, cultural use rights, sink, and public safety hazard.

I appreciate your intent, but offshore wind is the most expensive and least reliable publicly subsidized boondoggle in an area devoid of the values Nantucket Sound presents. There is life out there we eat.

The wayward NGOs continue to imply that wind turbines will stem climate chaos, tsunamis, and stop the invasion of the jellyfish. The commercial operation of wind in the U.S. was with Enron in CA. GE bought Enron assets and asked for their money back. They’re back…amazingly with the same players.

Follow the money.

Thank You,


Comment by Barbara Durkin on December 13, 2013 10:10 pm

The Massachusetts Audubon Society voiced their support for the Cape Wind project, recognizing that “…the cost was outweighed by the need for renewable energy:”

Comment by Allie Brown on December 16, 2013 5:21 pm

The Green Coalition has started an interesting movement.
A combined cycle natural gas turbine plant studied by the DOE completed in 2010 is rated at 570 mw and produces 470 mw, capacity factor 85%. cost $311 MILLION. life cycle 35 years therefore this plant will produce 133 Terawatts life cycle.
Cape wind project in nantucket sound has been approved. the project will cost $2.6 BILLON, and it has secured funding for $2 billon of that from a japanese bank. but this is believed to be subject to the project gaining a loan guarantee from the u.s. department of energy. the contracted cost of the wind farm’s energy will be 23 cents a kilowatt hour (excluding tax credits, which are unlikely to last the length of the project), which is more than 50% higher than current average electricity prices in massachusetts. the bay state is already the 4th most expensive state for electricity in the nation. even if the tax credits are preserved, $940 million of the $1.6 billion contract represents costs above projections for the likely market price of conventional power. moreover, these costs are just the initial costs they are scheduled to rise by 3.5 percent annually for 15 years. by year 15 the rate will be $.38 per Kilowatt.
This project is rated at 468 mw and will produce 143 mw after applying a capacity factor of 30.4 % the time the wind actually blows. life cycle is 20 years therefore this project will produce 24.6 Terawatts life cycle.
Bottom line, $311 Million 133 Terawatts. $2.6 Billion 24 Terawatts.

Comment by alpha2actual on December 28, 2013 5:49 am

Wind turbine farm’s adverse impact on bat populations should be noted. Bats are natures pesticide, it has been calculated that one bat is as effective as $74 of chemical pesticide over the course of a growing season. The fact that wind turbines kill bats has been observed for decades but it has been only recently that wind farm induced fatalities on autumn migratory bat population have been studied. Bats are attracted to wind turbines for several reasons, motion, harmonics, and tracking insects which are also attracted by the turbines. The problem is that the bat doesn’t have to make contact with the blade to be a fatality. The change in air pressure is enough to collapse the lungs of the bat a condition known as Barotrauma. This is a particularly dangerous time for bats particularly for some endangered species because of White Nose Syndrome discovered in 2006 which is rapidly spreading. This fungus is 95% fatal and has killed between 5.7 million to 6.7 bats

Comment by John Robinson on January 3, 2014 8:48 am

This comment has been copy/pasted several times across the internet an constitutes trolling. Whomever the anonymous “alpha2actual” is, they’re clearly not reading additional materials to understand how wind energy works. That’s how “alpha2actual” was able to come up with some poor analysis.

“alpha2actual” never cites any assertions with evidence, but it’s clear that he/she has forgotten about natural gas fuel costs. A natural gas power plant may be cheap to construct, but a big part of the cost is buying the fuel.

Meanwhile, the Cape Wind offshore wind project would reduce ratepayer costs in New England by about $286 million annually, or about $7.2 billion in total.

Comment by Simon Mahan on January 6, 2014 10:51 am

According to a peer-reviewed journal article published the Frontiers in Ecology in the Environment in May 2011 and spearheaded by Dr. Ed Arnett (director of Bat Conservation International): “Relatively small changes to wind-turbine operation resulted in nightly reductions in bat mortality, ranging from 44% to 93%, with marginal annual power loss (≤ 1% of total annual output). Our findings suggest that increasing turbine cut-in speeds at wind facilities in areas of conservation concern during times when active bats may be at particular risk from turbines could mitigate this detrimental aspect of wind-energy generation.”

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Comment by Simon Mahan on January 6, 2014 11:17 am

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