Wind energy has long been sold as a form of green, renewable energy without the downsides of drilling for oil or burning coal. However, there is now a growing groundswell of opposition to wind farms by green groups like the Sierra Club. The problem is that wind farms are often deadly to birds, including endangered species like the Golden Eagle. According to at least one expert, the number of birds killed or dismembered by wind turbines is in the multiple thousands every year.
Today the LA Times reports that under pressure from groups like the Sierra Club, wind farms are now considering the use of avian radar. These are small, expensive (half a million dollars) units which scan the sky for incoming birds and shut down turbines to prevent kills. Once the birds pass, the radar gets the turbines up and running again as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile the LA Department of Water and Power (DWP) is developing an even more ambitious system:
The DWP is developing an avian and bat protection plan to include
measures for mitigating risks. Later this year, the agency plans to test
a $3-million radar system designed to sweep the horizon, vertically and
horizontally, for large birds, said Mark Sedlacek, director of
environmental affairs for the DWP.
One biologist quoted in the story is Shawn Smallwood, an expert on raptors who has been collecting data on bird strikes at Altamont Pass since 1999. Smallwood can be seen in this video criticizing the industry and estimating that, at a minimum, 2,500 raptors are killed each year in this one area (though he suspects the actual number may be double that).
Heritage's Lachan Markay recently noted [HT: Hot Air] that renewable energy companies are looking for 30 year exemptions from laws which protect bald eagles and which might result in lawsuits against the companies.
It's not clear how the addition of bird radar will affect the productivity of wind farms (with windmills being turned off and on regularly) or how the installation and maintenance of these million dollar systems will affect the price of wind energy. For the moment, wind energy producers are just trying to avoid being sued out of business by the same green energy advocates who have long promoted them as a renewable alternative to coal, gas, and oil.