A new study found that the federal government underestimated the number of birds that die colliding with wind turbines across the country.
In fact, bird deaths were found to be 30 percent higher than previous estimates given by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009.
“I estimated 888,000 bat and 573,000 bird fatalities/year (including 83,000 raptor fatalities) at 51,630 megawatt (MW) of installed wind-energy capacity in the United States in 2012,” writes K. Shawn Smallwood, author of the study that was published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.
“As wind energy continues to expand, there is urgent need to improve fatality monitoring methods, especially in the implementation of detection trials, which should be more realistically incorporated into routine monitoring,” Smallwood added.
Wind turbines have been a dividing issue among environmental groups, as different priorities are placed on promoting renewable energy to curb global warming versus saving wildlife.
“It is the rationale that we have to get off of carbon, we have to get off of fossil fuels, that allows them to justify this,” said Tom Dougherty, a former National Wildlife Federation employee. “But at what cost? In this case, the cost is too high.”
Last month, environmentalists and bird enthusiasts watched in horror as the rare White-throated Needletail flew into a wind turbine and died on the Outer Hebrides.
“This wasn’t even a turbine on a huge wind farm, it was a solitary turbine to provide power to a small community,” said a 38-year old who witnessed the bird hit the turbine. “There is huge concern in Scotland about plans for big wind farms and the danger they would pose to big birds of prey like golden eagles and sea eagles.”
In the U.S., nearly all the birds killed are protected by federal law, but the Obama administration has so far refused to prosecute renewable energy companies whose turbines kill birds.
“Despite numerous violations, the Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — has unofficially exempted the wind industry from prosecution under the Eagle Protection and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts,” wrote the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce. “By exempting the wind industry from prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or the Eagle Protection Act, the federal government is providing another indirect subsidy to the sector.”