Opinion

Gone With The Wind: Resistance To Bird-Killing Turbines Grows

Bonner Cohen Author, Fixing America’s Crumbling Underground Infrastructure

The natives are restless, and their ire is directed against an intruder armed with taxpayer subsidies and intent on destroying as much scenic beauty and wildlife as it can get away with.

Across the country, giant wind farms, among the ghastliest monstrosities ever devised by man, are scarring the countryside in the name of providing renewable energy. But as the toll of slaughtered birds and bats mounts, people are fighting back. Here’s an update:

Minnesota: Not even the heft of Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens could overcome the resistance of conservationists and ordinary citizens to the construction of a 48-turbine wind farm near Red Wing, 25 miles southeast of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The proposed wind facility would be located on the Mississippi River Flyway, which is prime habitat for bald eagles and a variety of other birds as well as bats.

Minnesota is home to one of the nation’s largest eagle populations, and the prospect of the creatures flying into spinning turbines has spawned a burgeoning eagle-protection movement in the Gopher State. “I don’t think the American people are ready to watch Minnesota’s resting bald eagles be destroyed on behalf of a Texas millionaire,” local activist Mary Hartman recently told the Star Tribune. Earlier this year, Minnesota regulators rejected the proposal by a Pickens-owned firm, AWA Goodhue Wind, demanding the company provide more research on the number of eagles and bats that fly though the region.  Acknowledging that its turbines would be lethal, Goodhue Wind has applied for a federal permit, introduced by the Obama administration, which would legally allow the facility to kill eagles.  Meanwhile, the project remains in limbo.

Missouri: For years, residents of northern Missouri wondered why an Oregon-based energy company wanted to put a wind farm with as many as 118 turbines — each one 350 feet high — right next to the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. The 7,400-acre sanctuary attracts millions of migratory birds every year, including pelicans, wood ducks, trumpeter swans, sand hill cranes, blue herons, and snow geese – just to name a few.

Fearing the proposed Mill Creek Wind Energy Project’s rotating turbines would be a death trap for untold thousands of unsuspecting birds, the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy joined forces with local residents to have the facility scuttled. Biologist John Rushin, who has conducted research at Squaw Creek for 30 years, recently told the Kansas City Star: “If I could look all over northern Missouri for the worst possible place to put this thing, this would be it.” Facing a growing public backlash, Portland-based Element Energy backed out of the $400 million project in September.

Maryland:  When it comes to obscenities, the Great Bay Wind Project is in a class by itself. Of all places to put an industrial-scale wind power project, Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy chose Maryland’s majestic Chesapeake Bay. Renowned for its wildlife, seafood, sailing, and breathtaking scenery, the bay – if the developers have their way – will be transformed into a monument to the folly of pursuing renewable energy without regard to ecological, aesthetic, or economic consequences. Initially, 25 wind turbines soaring as high as 690 feet into the air will deface the serene farmland overlooking the bay in rural Somerset County, 70 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. Another 25 monster turbines would follow in a second phase.

The Chesapeake Bay lies along the Atlantic Flyway, and the towering turbines with their spinning rotors will make for a perfect ambush for bald eagles and other birds. To help them soar, eagles use thermals, which are rising currents of warm air, and up-drafts created by rolling terrain. Great Bay’s nearly 700-foot turbines will generate just such an up-draft, luring unsuspecting eagles to certain death. How many will be slaughtered is anyone’s guess.

Wildlife isn’t the only thing threatened by the project. Lying just across the bay from the proposed wind farm is the Patuxent Naval Air Station. The base is the only installation the Navy has that is capable of measuring the radar profiles of aircraft in flight. The electromagnetic waves emitted by the radar will create clutter when they come in contact with the towering, rotating wind turbines, seriously compromising the base’s radar system. Concerned for the base’s long-term viability, the Pentagon is expected to file a formal objection to the project any time now.

Alabama: Pioneer Green Energy recently suffered another setback at the hands of outraged local residents and was forced to abandon plans to construct two wind farms costing $200 million in Cherokee and Etowah counties in northeastern Alabama. An alliance calling itself “No Wind Alabama” spearheaded local resistance to the projects, citing concerns about wildlife, noise, declining property values, and despoiling the area’s natural beauty. Facing multiple lawsuits, the developers threw in the towel last summer.

What these and other wind farms have in common is that they are products of Washington’s pervasive culture of crony capitalism. As no less that Warren Buffett put it: “We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.” Buffett’s reference is the Production Tax Credit (PTC), the “temporary” federal subsidy to the wind industry enacted in 1992. The PTC props up the otherwise uncompetitive industry with a subsidy of $23 per kilowatt hour of electricity produced. Congress let the PTC expire at the end of 2013, and the wind industry is hustling Capitol Hill for yet another extension of the handout. Congress should pull the plug.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.