Birds and wind: Bad news leads, good news in weeds

The Washington Post carried a bad news/good news story on birds and wind power yesterday.  That's always the order of things–as the old newspaper saw puts it succinctly, "If it bleeds, it leads."

The headline was a downer, and so were the first six or seven paragraphs.  On the plus side, the story was accompanied by a very well-done graphic showing just how small wind power is in the overall picture of human-related avian mortality.

Studies show something like half the people who read the newspaper only see the headline on any given article, and there's a further sharp drop in readership after the first paragraph.  With that in mind, here are a few items from lower down in the story that deserve more emphasis:

– " … [F]ederal officials, other wildlife groups and a wind-farm industry representative said the conservancy’s views [that would be the American Bird Conservancy, which has staked out a very anti-wind position in recent months] are extreme. Wind farms currently kill far fewer birds than the estimated 100 million that fly into glass buildings, or up to 500 million killed yearly by cats. Power lines kill an estimated 10 million, and nearly 11 million are hit by automobiles, according to studies."  I might add that except for cats, those are all low-end numbers–the range for buildings is 100 million to 1 billion annually.  (For further information on wind power's impact on birds, see pp. 7-16 of AWEA's recent comments on draft U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service guidelines for wind power).

– Wind industry representatives spent 2-1/2 years working with representatives of wildlife groups and state and federal wildlife officials to come up with consensus recommendations on reducing the threat to birds still further.  In the process, the wind industry voluntarily agreed to hold itself to a higher standard of wildlife protection than any other industry.

– NextEra Energy, which operates many wind turbines in California's Altamont Pass, agreed last December with then-state attorney general Jerry Brown to "repower" its wind projects, replacing old, small, high-RPM machines with new, larger turbines spaced farther apart, a move expected to substantially lower bird fatalities.  See this San Jose Mercury-News article, published yesterday, for more.

Related articles:

Fact check: Fox News off base on bird collisions, August 19, 2011
News story draws questionable conclusions from eagle collisions with old turbines, June 6, 2011
WINDPOWER report: Whooping cranes may avoid wind farms, more research ahead, May 25, 2011
Wind developer launches intensive avian monitoring program, May 23, 2011
AWEA files comments on "unworkable" U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service guidelines, May 19, 2011
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, AWEA, wind developers sign agreement to promote endangered species conservation, April 20, 2011
Wind industry backs research on bat concerns including White-Nose Syndrome, April 1, 2011
Wind turbine bird threat modest, January 18, 2011
Editorial: How serious is threat to birds?, January 5, 2011
Wind energy and birds: No double standard, September 9, 2009
Wind-wildlife group names first president, February 24, 2009

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