Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans|
Oversight Hearing on: “Gone with the Wind: Impacts of
Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats.”
Testimony of Donald Michael
Director, Pesticides and Birds Program
American Bird Conservancy
May 1, 2007
Room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
My name is Dr. Michael Fry, and I am the
Director of the Pesticides and Birds Program at American Bird
Conservancy,. In addition to being responsible for science
and federal policy issues concerning pesticides, my job includes
federal policy and science issues related to the effects of
wind projects on mortality and habitat impacts to birds.
My qualifications include a PhD in Animal
Physiology from the University of California, Davis, and 30
years experience in avian ecology and toxicology at the University
of California and at American Bird Conservancy. I am a member
of the Wildlife Workgroup of the National Wind Coordinating
Committee, funded by the US Department of Energy I serve on
the Minerals Management Service, Outer Continental Shelf Environmental
Studies Program, Science Advisory Committee, and am Chair
of the Subcommittee on Alternative and Renewable Energy.
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)3
not-for-profit organization, whose mission is to conserve
wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It
is the only U.S.-based, group dedicated solely to overcoming
the greatest threats facing birds in the Western Hemisphere.
In brief, ABC has been an active participant in national symposia
on wind power, birds and wildlife for the past ten years and
believes that with proper siting, operation, and monitoring,
wind energy can provide clean, renewable energy for America's
future with minimal impacts to birds and bats. ABC has developed
a policy statement on wind energy and birds available on our
Unfortunately, to date, collaborative
efforts to successfully address the impacts of wind projects
on birds and wildlife have been a failure.
As members of this subcommittee may know,
the Department of Energy formed a consensus-based collaborative
in 1994, the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC),
which is comprised of representatives from the utility, wind
industry, environmental, consumer, regulatory, power marketer,
agricultural, tribal, economic development, and state and
federal government sectors. The purpose of the collaborative
was “to support the development of an environmentally,
economically, and politically sustainable commercial market
for wind power”. The NWCC has been an active forum for
discussion of environmental issues, and subcommittees of the
NWCC have developed several fact sheets and methods and metrics
documents in an effort to identify risks to wildlife from
wind projects, and to recommend actions that could be taken
by industry to prevent, reduce, or mitigate collision mortality
and habitat destruction arising from the construction and
operation of wind projects within the US.
My experience with NWCC, however, has been
that there has been much discussion and almost no real action
on the part of the wind industry to resolve bird collision
issues at wind project areas.
The wind energy industry has been constructing
and operating wind projects for almost 25 years with little
state and federal oversight. They have rejected as either
too costly or unproven techniques recommended by NWCC to reduce
bird deaths. The wind industry ignores the expertise of state
energy staff and the knowledgeable advice of Fish and Wildlife
Service employees on ways to reduce or avoid bird and wildlife
Federal and state oversight
for wind energy projects has been virtually nonexistent.
Federal participation in regulation and
enforcement of wind energy has been particularly conspicuous
in its absence. At Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, more
than a thousand Golden Eagles have been killed, and enforcement
officials have archived carcasses for decades. Not a single
prosecution for take of eagles has been brought by federal
officials, and no adequate explanation has ever been provided
to explain why the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act has
been ignored for so long.
The Fish and Wildlife Service developed
an interim series of voluntary siting guidelines in 2003,
and revised them after a prolonged comment period in 2005.
Federal guidelines must be required rather than voluntary.
The wind industry has provided ample evidence that voluntary
guidelines are regarded as unimportant and are thus summarily
The State of California has worked diligently
to document habitat issues and bird kills. They have recommended
studies to evaluate techniques to prevent or minimize the
killing of birds of prey at several wind resource areas in
California. Permits for development and operation continue
to be issued by California and its counties. They have done
so after being promised by wind developers that the wind industry
would take all measures “feasible” to prevent
or minimize bird injuries and deaths. However, without any
meaningful regulatory oversight or enforcement, the industry
has exhibited very little change in its behavior over the
past 25 years. Technology has advanced substantially, and
promises have been made that newer technologies would reduce
bird deaths, but very little evidence has been provided by
industry to substantiate their claims.
In fact, when independent researchers finally
gained access to the Altamont Pass area, under contract from
the California Energy Commission, the results of their research
and documentation were viscously attacked by staff from the
California Wind Energy Association. Every effort was made
to discredit the research and personally discredit the researchers.
The NWCC website provides an excellent bibliographic resource
to much of this information, and documents and links are available
The State of Maryland has recently exempted
wind projects from meaningful environmental review. Maryland
has eliminated the requirement for a Certificate of Public
Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) before construction of a
wind farm. The law eliminates the ability of stakeholders
other than the wind developer to have input into the process.
The law now: 1) Exempts wind energy developers from obtaining
a Certificate of Public Convenience and necessity (CPCN) from
the Public Service Commission. The developer only needs a
construction permit.; 2) Blocks the public from having meaningful
participation in the decision process for wind energy projects;
and 3) Prevents public and expert testimony at Public Service
Commission hearings for wind energy projects proposed on state-owned
lands and offshore, in waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
In summary, there has been a great deal
of discussion and very little action on the part of industry
and the federal government to resolve bird and wildlife issues.
Bird populations at greatest
risk include birds of prey and grassland songbirds.
The bird species at risk at individual
wind projects vary greatly, as habitats with good wind resource
are highly variable across the US. In general, the two bird
species groups at greatest risk are birds of prey, (both hawks
and eagles that hunt during the day, and owls, which are nocturnal,
and hunt at night) and grassland birds, species groups living
in the Great Plains and in flat or rolling hill country in
the Pacific Northwest, California, and Texas.
The bird species that have been documented
to have the greatest risks from collision mortality are:
Collision Mortality Risk:
Birds of Prey:
Especially in California and the Pacific Northwest
Great Horned Owls
Grassland ground birds and songbirds:
Especially in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains
“Generalist” species, found
in many places:
Sparrows and finches
More than 50 species of other migratory songbirds
Especially in the Great Basin and the Great Plains and Texas
Birds of prey have long been recognized
as the most vulnerable group of birds to suffer direct mortality
from collisions with rotor blades of wind turbines. It appears
that resident birds are killed in the greatest numbers, that
is, those birds that live in the area of the wind project
and are apparently killed while hunting. This has been a particularly
difficult problem in California at Altamont Pass and also
at the Montezuma Hills wind area in Solano County. The risk
to resident birds of prey appears directly related to the
population density of birds of prey in the area. To date,
very few well documented mitigation attempts have been tried
to reduce the kills of birds of prey at existing wind projects.
There have been early planning efforts
at one major wind project: Foote Creek Rim, Wyoming, where
careful location of wind turbines to avoid raptor flight patters
has resulted in minimizing collision mortality of birds of
prey. This type of effort should be undertaken at every wind
project, early in the planning stages, prior to leasing land
or siting turbines.
Grassland bird species are also at risk
of both collision mortality and habitat loss. Horned Larks
are a small songbird species that has been disproportionately
killed at windfarms in the Great Basin and Great Plains, apparently
because of courtship behaviors that involve aerial display
flights that take the birds into the path of turning rotors.
Other ground dwelling songbirds and grouse are not at as high
risk from collision mortality, but may be at very high risk
of disturbance and displacement from wind projects, because
of their apparent aversion to tall structures. Active research
sponsored by the NWCC and funded by others is ongoing, in
an effort to identify the displacement risks to grassland
Habitat loss in Puerto Rico and
tretas to the endangered Puerto Rican Nightjar:
The Puerto Rican Nightjar is a critically
endangered insect eating “Whip-poor-will” like
species, with a total population estimated at less than 1700
individuals. They live in tropical dry forests at only a few
locations in Puerto Rico, and have been listed as Endangered
by the FWS since 1973. In 2006, the FWS granted an incidental
take permit to destroy approximately 46 nesting territories
in prime habitat in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, to allow the
construction of a major wind project (WindMar) in an area
described as “marginal” wind resource by the Department
of Energy. It is completely inexplicable why the FWS would
grant such a permit to allow destruction of an endangered
species for development of a wind farm at a marginal resource,
with a very inadequate habitat conservation plan under the
ESA. This is a prime example of the lack of regulatory oversight
provided by the FWS to protect wildlife at wind projects.
A Proposal for Meaningful Federal
Participation to solve wildlife problems:
While I know that it is not the Natural
Resources Committee’s jurisdiction, there is a bill
in the Ways and Means Committee to renew the production tax
credit for wind energy, HR 197. ABC recommends that any renewal
of the production tax credit include provisions that require
meaningful research into ways of minimizing bird and bat kills
by wind projects, and require developers follow standard Best
Management Practices (BMPs) in avoiding and minimizing bird
and wildlife impacts.
Below several important research topics
that have not been adequately addressed since their discovery
shortly after operation of the wind projects at Altamont Pass
began 25 years ago. When answers to these questions are available,
they should be incorporated into the BMPs, and enforced by
the appropriate authorities. The logical federal agency to
have authority over promulgation and enforcement of BMPs.
would be the FWS.
Require efforts to reduce habitat loss during construction
and operation of wind projects.
Require adequate studies prior to siting wind projects to
avoid important and sensitive bird areas.
Require modifications to locations or operation of turbines
that kill a disproportionate number of birds.
Require real-time radar to be installed at wind projects
that are located in regions with high numbers of migratory
birds, and require project shut-downs when flocks of birds
at risk from collisions are detected approaching the wind
Critical research needs to be done in the following areas:
Identification of important
These areas should be off-limits to wind development unless
adequate preventative measures can be discovered to minimize
incidental take of protected bird species.
Better analysis of direct mortality.
The methods used to evaluate collision mortality in operating
wind farms are controversial and uncertain in their conclusions.
Birds and bats killed by wind turbines are searched for by
field teams at infrequent intervals, and the methods to extrapolate
to the true number of birds or bats killed still remain controversial.
For example, it is unknown whether small birds struck by a
turbine blade moving with a speed of greater than 150 mph
remain intact, or whether they disintegrate into a “poof”
of feathers and small fragments. It is unknown how far carcasses
of small birds that do remain intact can be catapulted by
a turbine blade that is 130 feet long traveling at 150 mph.
It is unknown how frequently and quickly scavengers remove
carcasses of dead or injured birds, so that monitoring personnel
(when present) do not observe the mortality. The formulas
and algorithms used to estimate scavenging rates remain controversial
and the environmental community remains skeptical of the accuracy
of mortality estimates.
Do turbines on ridge tops significantly
The “typical” modern turbine is a 1.5 MW, 3 blade
monopole turbine with a hub height 55-80 m (180-260 ft.) above
ground level, and turbine blade length of 35-40 m (115-130
ft.). The rotor typically spins at 12-20 rpm, and the rotor
tip travels at 150-180 mph. The height of the rotor, the speed
of the blades, and the speed of the wind are all factors in
where a bird carcass might land after being struck by a blade.
Recent published scientific reports indicate that greater
than 10% of nocturnal migrating songbirds migrating over ridges
fly at elevations putting them within the area of rotating
turbines (Mabee at al. 2006, WILDLIFE SOCIETY BULLETIN 34(3):682–690).
It is not known whether these birds are at risk of being struck
by turbines blades, whether they can adequately avoid them,
and whether inclement weather might increase the collision
risk, as it does with communications towers.
What locations in the US are unsuitable
for wind projects. This would be based on the presence of
vulnerable bird and bat species.
What areas of the US are significant
migratory corridors or broad regions with huge numbers of
migratory birds, both songbirds and raptors?
The Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana are
known to be critical passage areas for billionsof protected
migratory bird species. Weather radar has been employed to
evaluate the numbers of birds migrating along the Texas coast,
and flocks of millions of birds are routinely observed in
spring and fall. Texas, however, does not even involve its
Department of Parks and Wildlife in the permitting process,
which is carried out by the Texas General Land Office. I believe
this is totally unacceptable.
Can real-time radar and short-term
turbine shutdowns successfully prevent mortalities of migrating
birds without economic hardship to wind projects and without
harmful interruptions to the electric grid?
Real-time radar is currently operational
in Spain to prevent collision mortality to migrating birds
of prey. This or similar technologies need to be developed
in this country, in spite of the frequently heard statement
that such measures are too costly, and that financers of projects
will not stand for the economic loss from temporary or seasonal
shutdowns. The World Bank is requiring such technologies to
be developed at wind projects in Mexico to prevent mortalities
to migrating hawks that funnel through the Oaxaca region in
very large numbers.
Can automated technologies be developed
that detect bird strikes to turbine blades?
If acoustic, photographic or other sensitive
automatic detectors could be developed within rotor blades
or turbine hubs to monitor bird strikes, the uncertainty and
expense of carcass searches and repetitious monitoring of
wind farms could be eliminated, and better information on
problem turbines would be generated. The costs of incorporating
sensitive detectors into rotor blades or hubs would be very
small compared to the overall costs, and cost reductions from
reduced monitoring and analysis would be significant.
How will bird strikes be evaluated at offshore wind
Which bird species (ex Brown Pelicans and
Gannets) are at risk from offshore wind projects?
Will offshore wind projects exclude
wintering migratory sea ducks and other birds from traditional
The last three questions deal primarily
with offshore wind projects, and need to be addressed to the
Minerals Management Service Environmental Studies Program,
as they gear up for environmental studies in conjunction with
leasing offshore areas for wind projects.
All of these unanswered questions have
been posed to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of
the Department of Energy and to the Minerals Management Service.
At the current time there is no adequate budget to answer
these or other questions, but wind projects are going forward
at an increasing rate without answers to these questions,
and without adequate involvement of the Fish and Wildlife
Service for development of enforceable guidelines for preventing
or minimizing bird kills and habitat losses.
Biological Significance of wind turbine mortality.
While the actual number of birds killed
by wind turbines is unknown, estimates have been made in the
range of 30,000 to 60,000 per year at the current level of
wind development. The wind industry is prepared to increase
the number of turbines 30 fold over the next 20 years, in
order to fulfill the President’s request that renewable
energy projects supply 20% of the nation’s energy needs
At the current estimated mortality rate,
the wind industry will be killing 900,000 to 1.8 million birds
per year. While this number is a relatively small percentage
of the total number of birds estimated to live in North America
many of the bird species being killed are already declining
for other reasons, and losses of more than a million birds
per year would exacerbate these unexplained declines. Data
from the FWS Migratory Bird Management and Breeding Bird Survey
by the US Geological Service indicate that at least 223 species
of our native bird species are in significant decline (about
1/4 of all species in US). The mortality at wind farms is
significant, because many of the species most impacted are
already in decline, and all sources of mortality contribute
to the continuing decline.
Thank you once again for the opportunity
to present my testimony today Chairman Bordallo.