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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

HOW IMPORTANT ARE BIRDS?

It's not known for sure, but chances are there are 100 billion to 400 billion birds in the whole wide world, with up to 20 billion just in the USA. , and that's 64 birds/human.  Apparently, this number drops by a factor of two by the early spring, and jumps upon the subsequent hatchings.

Cats kill half a billion birds/year in our country.   Plus up to a billion birds die yearly from window impacts (in the U.S).  Wind turbines kill a quarter million (140,000 to 328,000) birds/year A more comprehensive study by Curry & Kerlinger, consultants to the Wind Power Industry, reports the following bird deaths/year in the U.S.:
  • glass windows:  up to 900+ million
  • house cats:  100 million
  • traffic:  up to 100 million
  • electrical transmission lines:  up to 174 million
  • agriculture:  67 million
So what's this latest news about the solar tower power plant at Ivanpah being questioned because it is killing too many birds?  This  123 MW facility has 300,000 mirrors the size of a garage door reflecting the rays of the sun onto three boiler towers up to 40 stories high.  Federal investigators say that up to 28,000 birds/year (BrightSource, the developer says the number is around a 1000/year) are being decimated, so there should be a halt to any further development, as plans are to increase generation to 392 MW.  Hmm...that would be, by my calculation, 75,000 birds/year, or fewer than 3,000 according to the company.

Taking the environmentalist point of view, if ten of these solar farms, or 4000 MW (about four typical nuclear power plants), are built in the California/Nevada desert, that would equal about one-fifth of one percent cat kills.  And what about those planned 75-storey towers (right) planned at the California-Arizona border?  Add on another one-tenth of one percent of cat kills.

If wind power increases by a factor of ten, that would equal 2.5 million birds/year, or 5% of cat kills.  Let's say someday all solar power equals that of wind turbines, that would be 10% of cat kills for solar/wind.  Shouldn't we eliminate cats?  Now.

Maybe we should expand nuclear power, as there have not been too many deaths caused by plutonium/uranium in the USA.  Whooops, let me take that back, for NukeFree reports that avian mortality from wind farms and nuclear reactors are similar, and more than ten times better than fossil fuel plants.  Okay, then, perhaps we should outlaw windows and buildings, for they kill ten times more birds than cats.  The bottom line is that all the existing and coming wind/solar farms will hardly dent the population of birds!!!

Duke Energy Renewables was charged with killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other birds in Wyoming.  There was a fine imposed, which upset some conservationists, who indicated this was a permit to kill eagles.

As minuscule, relatively, as solar kills might be, people are talking to each other.  For example, the Fed's set up a:

22-member Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee, which included experts from the National Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Massachusetts Audubon and Bat Conservation International, developed the guidelines. Committee members report they are optimistic that the new guidelines provide a path to better protection for birds and their habitat.

Is it worth all this concern?  The number of solar/wind bird kills could be a worthwhile trade-off for combatting global warming and maximizing energy security.


However, my take on this subject is that the solar/wind industry will, actually, find better solutions.  Already, Altamont Pass is experimenting with cage-like lattice towers and shrouds that seem to be working.    We are only learning how migratory birds see and react.  It's possible that visual fixes can work.  Not quite antimissile technology, but, I can imagine some device that can influence bird flights away from solar towers and wind turbines.  Acoustic deterrent options are only in the early stages of thinking.

The Audobon Society will attempt to sway the discussion, but it will eventually come down to economics and commercial feasibility versus environmental factors and public ire.  Sure, technology can minimize kill rate, but will these cures be affordable?  Are birds really worth all this attention?  After all, there are maybe 400 billion birds and  global solar/wind devices might not ever reach a tenth of a billion bird kills/year, without taking any measures.  However, people can be passionate about birds, and this will continue to be an issue into the foreseeable future.


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