Many of our members have complained to us that mortality predictions being used to assess the impacts of wind turbines on birds and bats are minimised to a level that thoroughly misleads decision makers. To wit, in a widely used report prepared for the Australian Government by consultant Biosis Research Pty Ltd, we read: “the additional mortality predicted for the cumulative effects of turbine collisions for wind farms within the range of the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle (TWTE) is likely to result in the additional death of approximately one bird per annum” (1). Yet, actual eagle mortality at just one of the 7 wind farms considered by the study turned out to be 3.2 eagles per year, according to the operator of the Woolnorth wind farm (2). Dr Stephen Debus puts the number at 5 TWTE per year (3). As the 6 other wind farms have not been monitored, “there might be tens of eagle deaths per year in Tasmania” (from blade strikes), adds Dr. Debus. Of these, the vast majority concerns the TWTE: at the Woolnorth wind farm, from 20 eagles killed in 4 years, 17 were TWTEs and 3 were white-bellied sea eagles (2).
The Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, a (bigger) sub-species of the Wedge-tailed Eagle, numbered only 130 successful breeding pairs in 2010 according to the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (2) – and obviously less now, as the killings are allowed to continue. It is classified as “endangered”. The result of the misleading assessment of Biosis will be to condemn to extinction the largest of Australia’s eagles.
I analysed the Biosis TWTE study in 2010, and found disturbing “errors” in it, huge ones at that, totalling two orders of magnitude. So I wrote an open letter to the authors (4). They failed to reply. Australian ornithologists, who had been copied on it, also kept silent. The letter generated record levels of traffic on the Iberica 2000 website that had published it, but nobody responded, no one. Apparently, nobody wanted to hear the bad news, let alone acknowledge them, especially ornithologists, bird societies, and even the media, enthralled as they all are by the “goodness” of wind turbines. In fact, I realised that everyone had an interest in continuing business as usual. And business as usual it has been, in the five years that followed to this date. As we speak, mendacious mortality predictions from eager-to-please consultants continue to be used to promote wind farms across Australia, and indeed the across world.
The Tasmanian situation was resolved by making sure that no more news of eagles killed by wind farms on the island would be published by the media. This cover-up is now 5 years old, and has been quite effective: no news of eagle mortality has transpired from Woolnorth or any other Tasmanian wind farm.
I shall come back to the matter of unethical consultants and bird societies later, but I would like to cite two other examples briefly, to make my point. Before the Macarthur wind farm was built, in the State of Victoria, consultants had estimated that the level of bird activity was low in the area, and that the impact on birds would be insignificant. But after construction, a monitoring survey counted the carcasses and estimated the death toll at about 1500 birds in one year, including nearly 500 raptors among which 6 wedge-tailed eagles (5). So much for the negligible bird mortality… Much the same happened with the Wolfe Island windfarm, in the Province of Ontario.
This scenario is repeating itself at wind farms all over the world, wherever post-construction monitoring surveys are performed. My experience has been that predicted rates of mortality are often two orders of magnitude (100 times) lower than reality. The monitoring surveys themselves play their part, by never reflecting the full extent of the death toll (for technical reasons – e.g. the insufficient size of the area searched under each turbine * – as well as conflicts of interest).
* search area: a 50-meter-radius circle around each mast, whereas a 150-meter-tall wind turbine can project the body of a small bird 200 meters away and beyond.
Manipulated Mortality Statistics
It is my duty, as President of the World Council for Nature, to blow the whistle about the true extent of the carnage which is taking place at wind farms everywhere. The deception being staged by consultants in order to fool people and their governments will have unfathomed consequences for wildlife, biodiversity, natural habitats, and the health of forests and agriculture. We are facing widespread corrupt behaviour, which is putting private interests ahead of the common good.
Consultants, hired as they are by promoters, have an obvious interest in misleading decision-makers by predicting insignificant mortality. It’s been the case for the above-mentioned Macarthur and Wolfe Island windfarms, but in Europe and the United States it is much the same, e.g. in France the official mortality estimate is about one bird/turbine/year (6). Everywhere, consultants willing to please the wind industry, their main employer, are the source of the deception.
In the US, the latest nationwide windfarm mortality estimates are Dr. Smallwood’s 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats per year, i.e. almost 15 birds and 23 bats per turbine (7). But there are also European estimates of interest: for instance, extrapolating to Germany the findings of renowned Dutch biologist J.E. Winkelman, ornithologist Bernd Koop had calculated that annual mortality would be 60,000 – 100,000 birds per Gigawatt of installed wind capacity (8). For today’s Germany, which has 39 Gigawatts, this would add up to 2,340,000 – 3,900,000 dead birds a year.
The Koop estimate is much closer to reality, which was revealed in 2012 by a comprehensive evaluation of wind farm mortality by the Spanish ornithological society SEO-BirdLife (Sociedad Española de Ornitología). In response to a request based on the right to information in environmental matters (Aarhus Convention), SEO has obtained copies of 136 monitoring studies of wind farms, studies that the Spanish government had filed without publishing. Having analysed them, SEO researchers estimated the mortality as follows: Spain’s 18,000 wind turbines kill on average 6 – 18 million birds and bats a year. Considering that wind turbines kill roughly twice as many bats as birds, this comes to a death toll of 100 – 300 birds and 200 – 600 bats per turbine per year (9). Averaging these numbers, we can say that, on average, each wind turbine kills 200 birds and 400 bats a year. For the Macarthur wind farm: 200 birds x 140 turbines = 28,000 birds a year, as opposed to 1,500 estimated by monitoring consultants.
These figures are actually shy of the first estimates of two decades ago. In a study published by an agency of the California government, the California Energy Commission, we can read as follows: “In a summary of avian impacts at wind turbines by Benner et al. (1993) bird deaths per turbine per year were as high as 309 in Germany and 895 in Sweden “(10). We are very far indeed from the 1 bird per turbine/year being routinely predicted by some remarkably mendacious consultants or government agencies.
Something obviously happened between the high mortality found in the early days of wind farms by biologists such as Winkelman, Benner, Lekuona, Everaert etc. and present estimates as low as 1 bird per turbine/year being “predicted” in Australia, France, the UK etc. Could it be that actual mortality has come down to such a low level?
– Not in the least: if you need convincing, see the mortality at Altamont Pass, Macarthur, Wolfe Island, Woolnorth, Smola, etc.
What actually happened is that powerful political and financial interests have worked together towards deceiving our perception of mortality from wind turbines – i.e. putting in place a cover-up. To succeed in this mystification, it was essental to obtain the cooperation of ornithological NGOs. This was generally done by way of donations, and a plethora of attractive contracts: impact studies for wind projects, monitoring avian mortality once the projects are built, modelling ornithological mortality etc… In countries with high penetration of “green” energy, the wind industry quickly became the main employer of ornithologists.
In Spain, Iberdrola and Banco Triodos (the renewable energies’ bank) used to make donations to SEO-Birdlife amounting to nearly 25% of its budget. After a number of years, this finally caused some dissension among members, eventually resulting in the departure of the General Manager, Alejandro Sánchez, in 2010 (11). Less than two years later, the ornithological society published its estimate of windfarm mortality in Spain, revealing the enormity of the massacre (9). But their report was neither published nor mentioned by ornithological societies in other countries – what better proof of the collusion between wind interests and ornithology?
An average of 200 dead birds per turbine per year is not at all surprising: it is less than one bird per 24 hours. It could easily be more, considering that song birds migrate at night, to avoid overheating. On moonless nights, all they can see from the turbines are the position lights on the nacelles, while the blades are slashing through the air at up to 300 km/h, invisible.
Accidents also happen during the day, particularly in the case of those species that are attracted to wind turbines(12). This attraction puts their lives in danger, because the blades can reach speeds of 300 km/h at the tip (see further below). It is the case for swallows, swifts and other birds that catch insects on the wing; Professor Ahlén found that they are attracted to wind turbines because insects are themselves attracted to these machines (12).
[ UPDATE. The Audubon Society wrote in March 2016 : “white blades attract insects, and insects attract foraging birds” ]
The Case of Raptors
It is also the case of raptors (12), which are attracted by dead or wounded birds or bats that lie under the turbines, or by the mice and rabbits that live there. Indeed, rodents find plenty of food in these open spaces covered in gramineae; also, it is easy to dig burrows where the soil has been softened up by foundation work – see picture below.
Perched on the still blades (picture further below), or on the nacelles, birds of prey have a commanding view of this exceptional hunting territory. Many will hunt successfully without getting struck by a blade. But their very success causes their brains to establish a connection between wind turbines and great hunting opportunities. Thus, when they spot a wind turbine, which may be seen from many miles away, they will be attracted to it. Young, unattached raptors will therefore visit many wind farms, and so will adults on migration. Breeding adults, on the other hand, will only visit wind turbines located within their own territories, but will do it over and over again. In either case, the more time they spend near the turbines, the greater the chances they will be struck by a blade, the speed of which it is only too easy to misjudge. This is why so many raptors get killed by wind farms.
For birds as for humans, the blades appear to be moving at a leisurely pace. Yet, they travel at up to 300km/h at their tip. Here is the calculation for a 2.3 MW ENERCON Model E-70: 71m (diameter) x 3.14 = circumference of 223m x 21.5 revolutions per minute (in winds above 45 km/h) = 4.794m travelled by the tip of each blade in a minute x 60 minutes = 287,640m travelled in an hour, i.e. at a speed of 287km/h. In low winds, the speed is of 100 – 200 km/h. The difference between apparent slowness and actual high speed, plus the attraction they exert, are what turn wind turbines into deadly traps for birds and bats.
Raptors, experience has shown, are prone to be decimated by wind turbines (13). Yet these birds are very useful to us, as they control certain animal populations (rats, mice, rabbits, and nest plunderers such as magpies, crows etc.). They also eliminate sick or dead animals, thus preventing epidemics and contributing to the health of many species. Their role is important for the maintenance of natural balances, biodiversity and ecosystems. Yet, a new peer-reviewed study is alerting us that wind turbines are partly responsible for the coming extinction of some species of raptors (in southern Europe). One of them, the Egyptian Vulture, is seeing its population of breeding adults decline by 3-4% per year (14). This spectacular glider is already very rare in Europe, where millions of euros have been spent for its protection, including even its reintroduction (in France for instance).
Photo: Red-tailed hawk perched on a blade, Altamont Pass, California.
Perching opportunities make wind turbines attractive to raptors, so do the prey and carcasses to be found under them (as we commented above). Here are more pictures (15), and videos (25 and 26) proving the point. But consultants promote the fiction that raptors “avoid” wind turbines, and the ornithology profession turns a blind eye to that baseless assertion, all of which is helping their common employers: wind farm promoters. If raptors avoided wind turbines, why would so many be killed by their blades? (13)
Consultants use a wide array of deceptive tricks, which they developed over the years. I listed some of them years ago in an article, “the Shame of Scotland” (16). One of these tricks has been pushed to unprecedented levels in Australia: the “core-range manipulation” (16). There, consultants have decided, based upon unscientific, biased and unpublishedobservations, that wind turbines can be safely erected as close as 300 meters from the nests of eagles or other raptors. For instance, in the Bulgana Windfarm Flora and Fauna Assessment Report No. 13051 (7.6), page 97, we read: “Previous studies on wind farms have shown that resident Wedge-tailed Eagles are able to successfully nest and raise young on wind farms, if turbines are located at least 300 metres away (BL&A unpublished data )”.
Years ago, I debunked an identical assertion which was based on 24 searches spread over two years at the Challicum Hills wind farm – hardly constituting solid scientific evidence, to say the least. Biosis even admitted: “the work does not discount the possibility of WT eagle collisions” (17). Yet the fiction perdures, and wind turbines continue to be erected in Australia as close as 300 meters from eagle and other raptors’ nests. Nowhere else in the world are wind turbines erected so close to large raptors’ nests. Australia’s eagles are being slaughtered, but the cover-up imposed in the last few years keeps Australians uninformed.
By contrast, Scottish raptor expert Michael J. McGrady recommends a 5 km buffer zone for the Golden Eagle, in the peer-reviewed study “A model of golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) ranging behavior”, J. Raptor Res. 36 (1 Supplement): 62-69 – by McGrady, M.J., Grant, J. R., Baingridge, I. P. & David R.A. McLeod D.R.A. (2002) (18). This study and its recommendation are mentioned in SEO-Birdlife’s guide for the assessment of windfarms as regards bird life, in which one can find the buffer zones recommended by scientists for various protected bird species (18). The shortest is 1 km, for the smallest of the kestrel species. For eagles, they vary from 5 to 10 km (18); for ospreys 2 km, peregrine falcons 2 – 4 km, cranes 10 km.
Plundering Nature with Public Funds
Out of control windfarm development is hurting many protected species, riding as it does on the optimistic estimates put out by hired consultants, government agencies, bird societies, the wind industry and its agents, pro-wind activists etc. It is also facilitated by considerable flows of public money, in the form of subsidies, tax credits, special loans, carbon certificates, etc. These millions of dollars (billions in those countries that have thousands of wind turbines) enable private interests to remove all obstacles to their greed, and this includes overriding nature protection legislation. Migration routes and stopover areas (e.g. Prince Edward County, Ontario; Escandorgue, France), shrinking habitat of threatened species (e.g. brolgas, Bonelli’s eagles, whooping cranes, California condors), designated Important Bird Areas (e.g. Sierras d’Alfaro y Almudaina, Spain, Lewis Island, Scotland), , nothing is sacred: the plunder has no limits.
Planning authorities which give the green light to wind projects rarely have other bird data at hand than what’s reported in impact studies prepared by unethical consultants. I read about a hundred of these reports over the past 12 years, and none concluded that the impact on the environment would be unacceptable, even when the project was to be located inside a protected nature reserve, or was threatening an endangered species with extinction. None of them was honest, without errors or omissions, and free of manipulations.
To obtain approval for wind projects that will highly impact protected species, consultants usually suggest applying some techniques for avoiding, minimising, or attenuating the risks of collision. They call these “mitigation”. But we must be aware that none of these schemes, none of these formulas have proved effective. Wherever they have been implemented, they have failed (Altamont Pass, Woolnorth, Smola, Tarifa). The President of the French bird society LPO-Birdlife acknowledged the fact that mitigation does not work (19).
[ UPDATE. The Audubon Society concurred, in an article dated March 16, 2016 : “I would say it’s highly experimental; none of it has been proven to work” ]
In situations where opponents to a wind project have raised the issue of bat mortality, consultants often propose a mitigation which consists in increasing the cut-in wind speed to, say, 6 meters per second. This means not letting the blades rotate unless the speed of the wind exceeds 22 km/h. The idea is that, as few bats fly when the wind exceeds that speed, mortality will be reduced by about 90%. We comment on this particular mitigation as follows:
– First observation: the promised 90% reduction in mortality has not been verified. To our knowledge, no wind farm has put this measure into practice and published the results.
– Second observation: a 10% residual mortality is considered by consultants to be negligible, as if it were acceptable to kill 1.2 million bats per year instead of 12 million (supposing a country that has, or will have, 18,000 wind turbines as in Spain). Most bat species are endangered, all are extremely useful. Killing them in such numbers is irresponsible. Also consider that the figure of 1,2 million will be much higher, as
A) the reduction to 10% is unproven,
B) only few wind projects contemplate “bat mitigation”.
– Third observation: the practical application of such a measure is not verifiable. Indeed, who would make sure that, during 25 years, the computer program controlling the feathering of the blades…
C) reflects that mitigation,
D) is in good order and
E) is being applied?
The interest of the windfarm owner is to not apply it, as it reduces his income. Thus, inspectors would be needed, but who would pay them during 25 years? It would have to be the State. And who would ensure that the operators of the wind farms will not “convince” these civil servants to turn a blind eye? Indeed, wind farms are often associated with corruption (20).
Mitigation of bat mortality is therefore doubtful at best. Yet bats are killed in bigger numbers than birds – about twice as many, i.e. circa 400 per turbine/year, or one bat per turbine/night. According to a study published in France, bats “are the most valuable fauna group” (in French:«constituent le groupe faunistique ayant la plus forte valeur patrimoniale») (21). Indeed, bat species are very useful to humans, but they all are in decline. To make things worse, their populations cannot recover easily, most females only raising one pup a year.
Many of the chiropter species are classified as threatened with extinction. This is especially worrying because, without bats, farmers, the forest industry, and national forestry administrations would have to use more pesticides to control insects that attack trees and crops. This would lead to undesirable effects on prices and on the health of citizens. Services rendered by bats to US agriculture have been valued at $3.7 billion – $53 billion annually (22). That we know of, no evaluation has been made for services rendered by chiropters to forestry, but their usefulness in controlling some forest pests is recognized (23). Yet bats are being killed in their millions by wind turbines. This is causing considerable harm to the environment.
In this video (24), we see bats getting struck by turbine blades, and others falling to the ground due to“barotrauma” (fatal injuries in the lungs caused by large pressure differences created around the blades).
The ineffectiveness of mitigation resulted in wily consultants proposing yet another deceptive scheme: “compensation”. This stratagem is useful to businesses that are causing serious harm to nature as a result of their activities. So much so that “offset programs” (27) are being set up, fooling people into believing that destroying more nature can be compensated. “No net biodiversity loss” is the publicised goal, but it is yet another scam to facilitate more plundering of nature. It boggles the mind to see most ecologists and bird societies supporting this fraud. Here again, ethics vanish where there is money to be made…
Natural wetlands cannot be replaced by man-made reservoirs, any more than destroying primary tropical forests can be compensated by planting eucalyptus. Just as surely, installing long-lasting ecological traps in the habitat of protected species cannot be offset by donations to a bird society. This scheme of redeeming one’s ecological sins with money is not without parallel with the “indulgences” that were sold by the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.
Compensation is increasingly being used in the windfarm business. For instance, it is being alleged that, if new hunting areas for raptors are created nearby, it is acceptable to install wind turbines in their breeding territories. But this only works on paper. It hasn’t been successful anywhere in the world. The example of Beinn an Tuirc, Scotland, is sometimes quoted by some consultant as a reference. But this example is anything but conclusive. I exposed its false claim to success years ago (28).
The since-discovered fact that raptors are attracted to wind turbines further proves the ineffectiveness of this compensation. These machines act as giant bird and bat traps that attract their victims from many miles around, creating as many “population sinks” across whole continents. Nothing can compensate this ongoing massacre. Creating new hunting grounds next to wind farms is as absurd as “killing the children but building orphanages”. .
No government in the world has considered objectively the cumulative effects of so many wind turbines, each of them an ecological trap attracting and killing many protected species. Some residents report that, since wind turbines were built, there are no more bats where they live; others noted that they see fewer and fewer raptors. Swallows and swifts are becoming rarer too, according to others.
The situation is serious, if only because these species are of great benefit to humanity. Natural equilibriums are also at risk, and so is quality of life. Are we willing to replace our countryside with industrial landscapes, our birds and bats with crop dusters? Where are we headed, with this “green” ideology which destroys nature by calling for its invasion by more destructive industry, and misleads people into thinking it’s for the greater good of the planet?
What an awful mess are these ideologues making of our world, under the pretext of saving it… The wind industry has never been able to prove it can achieve its goal of significantly reducing harmful emissions. The wind’s intermittency stands in its way. The German experience is far from being conclusive in this regard, to say the least (29). A few years from now, when all the expensive tinkering will have failed (more power lines, international connections, smart meters, giant batteries, reservoirs and pumping stations, etc.), the Germans will have to face the harsh reality: wind intermittency has no economically viable solution.
Independent engineers keep repeating it (30), but stubborn governments are not listening. Through the famous “revolving door” of politics, wind power subsidies help finance political parties. It would be suicidal for any party to vote against their renewal (30). The wind industry clearly calls the shots, be it in Copenhagen, London, Ottawa, Canberra or Washington. The wind farm scam controls our energy policy, and the ministers of health and the environment must obey.
The renewable energy bubble has burst in Spain and other southern European countries. It occurred when the cost of subsidies became unaffordable, i.e. when these countries became technically bankrupt and HAD to cut down on government expenses. When this happened, the so-called “green jobs” vanished. The countries were left with households impoverished by the high cost of “renewable” electricity. Some companies had to relocate abroad due to this cost, and more are contemplating to do likewise. Tourists looking for nature, landscapes and relaxation choose other destinations. In the countryside, residents are poorer as their homes are worth a fraction of their normal value. Many suffer from the Wind Turbine Syndrome, and their lives may end sooner because of high levels of cortisol in their blood. As for the birds, they keep being chopped up year after year…
Chairman, World Council for Nature
Tél: +34 693 643 736 email@example.com