America’s national bird, the bald eagle, along with golden eagles and other raptors, face mass slaughter in California’s wind farm avian graveyards following the State Democrat-controlled legislature’s decision to relax controls on wildlife protections. Signed into law last month, with little protest, Senate Bill 147 (SB 147) allows permits to kill previously fully protected species for renewable energy and infrastructure projects. The move comes as the Federal Biden Administration pushes ahead with ambitious plans to increase renewable energy harnessed from both onshore and offshore giant turbines.
Local lawyer Cox Castle explained that before SB 147, no authorisation existed for the slaughter of 37 fully protected native species, except for scientific research. This meant, they continued, that the presence of protected birds on a renewable energy development could stop the project in its tracks. “SB 147 creates more certainty for renewable energy and certain other project developers because it establishes a permitting process for these species,” it notes. Cox Castle also observes that the protected species list has been “updated” with the removal of the American peregrine falcon and the brown pelican.
Of course, the avian destruction has been going on for years, with giant turbine blades posing serious hazards to large birds such as eagles that rely on air currents for sustained flight. NextEra Energy is one of America’s largest utility companies, and last year it was fined $8 million after 150 eagles were killed at its wind farms across eight states. Almost all the deaths occurred when the eagles were hit by turbine blades. Because carcasses are not always found, officials told the court that the number killed was likely to have been higher.
It might be America’s national bird, displayed everywhere on coins, flags and official documents, but few activists seem to be able to rouse themselves to complain when the natural flight path of the bald eagle stands in the way of green progress. Audubon California claims its mission is to restore and conserve natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity. But Policy Director Mark Lynes said he did not want to see eagle deaths “being used to push against clean energy”. Our position is that we need renewable energy resources, “but we also know that they can be sited and adequately mitigated so that we’re not causing declines in wildlife populations”. In addition, during the same interview, Lynes confirmed the scale of the slaughter of the golden eagle, noting that a wind farm complex in Altamont had been killing 75-100 golden eagles every year since the 1980s, according to the Golden Gate Audubon Society.
In total there are thought to be about 300,000 bald eagles in the United States but less than 30,000 golden eagles, mostly to be found in the West. Extermination on the scale recently identified from wind farms is likely to have a noticeable effect on future numbers. Needless to say, the destruction of wildlife by wind turbines is almost completely ignored by mainstream media, a situation unlikely to occur if, for instance, oil and gas companies were responsible for such carnage.
As the Daily Sceptic has reported in the past, it is not just large birds of prey that are at risk from onshore wind farms. Recent scientific work suggested that millions of bats across the world are killed every year by turbine blades. A recent German field study identified 55 casualties per megawatt generated. Britain currently has 14,000 megawatts of onshore capacity, although actual generation is less. Political pressure to boost this onshore capacity is growing and it would be helpful if a figure on the accepted bat butcher’s bill could be produced. For its part, the Bat Conservation Trust takes a sympathetic line noting that there has been evidence of bat collision with wind turbines for 20 years, but it supports the development of wind power. Sympathetic towards the highly subsidised wind energy business, it would seem, rather than the unfortunate bats.
Meanwhile, off the eastern coast of the United States whales continue to beach in unusually high numbers. The latest fatality was a humpback that was washed ashore on the New Jersey coast, bringing the total to around 300 fatalities in the last five years. Many suggest the deaths have been caused by massive offshore construction of wind turbine parks, with extensive sonar soundings and pile-driving causing havoc with aquatic feeding, breeding and migration up and down the coast. “This alarming number of deaths is unprecedented in the last century,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Ocean Clean Action, adding, “the only unique factor from previous years is the excessive scope, scale and magnitude of offshore wind powerplant activity in the area.”
The veteran environmentalist Michael Shellenberger has weighed in on official denials that the massive offshore building works are wreaking environmental damage. “They’re lying,” he charged, and he called the issue around the industrialisation in previously pristine waters, “the biggest environmental scandal in the world”.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.