Saturday, May 5, 2007

Wind Power and its Effect on Humans and the Environment

Wind power has been hailed as an alternative to oil, and a big push is being felt in Capitol Hill to fund these power sources that produce no carbon in their energy production. Little has been done to research the impacts wind turbines will have on the environment, until the White House Council on Environmental Quality began requesting more information from several agencies. A report released on Thursday suggests windmills aren't terrible bird killers, despite the common misconception held by many people. The report was released by by the Academy of Sciences' National Research Council, after concerns that wind generators would disrupt migration patterns and put many threatened species of birds at greater risk. The report found that a negligible number of migratory birds are effected by turbines, and in fact the greatest risk to bird populations are cats, windows and powerlines which when combined account for nearly three billion deaths a year. However, localized raptor populations were impacted by windmills due to their tendency to seek out windy sites from which to hunt for prey.
The scientists on the research team expressed the most concern over bats, since their analysis revealed more bat deaths than expected. Initial studies suggest that the electromagnetic fields created by turbines lure the bats to wind fields and into the spinning blades of turbines, but there are many other hypotheses as well. Compounded by unrelated declines in many species of bats on the east coast, this is bad news for the elusive night creatures. The study reported up to 41 bats killed for every megawatt of power from forested ridge tops on the east coast, while in the Midwest the numbers fall to less than 9 deaths per megawatt.
Another subject of debate with turbines is their impact on the aesthetics of the hillsides they populate. There have been suggestions that uniformity will call less attention to them.
I myself wonder why all this hub-ub about aesthetics. We live with power lines, pavement, pollution, and people are concerned that hillsides filled with turbines will create an eyesore? Get real- just adjust your paradigm of what defines beauty! The real question is, how will wind power scale if our power needs continue to grow? How will wind power effect the necessary winds of local climates?
The NAS study points out the necessity for further research to weed out the real cause of turbine-generated bat deaths and raptor habitat, as well as further development of turbine blades that will be more appealing to the American public. Improvements have already been made over the years resulting in higher efficiency, less unwanted noise, and less risk to animals, and we've only just begun.
NAS report
for related article at SF Chronical
for a comprehensive article on wind turbines

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