U.S. Government Investigators Urge More Federal Involvement in Wind Farms
WASHINGTON A government report urged federal officials to be more active in weighing the impact of wind power windmill farms on the deaths of birds and bats, saying local and state regulators sometimes lack the necessary expertise.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, found that the federal government offers minimal oversight in approving wind power plants, yielding decision-making to the state and local levels.
As a result, the GAO found, "no one is considering the impacts of wind power on a regional or 'ecosystem' scale -- a scale that often spans governmental jurisdictions."
In a report issued Monday, the GAO urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with state and local officials to alert them about proposed wind farms' impacts on wildlife.
Wind power is among the fastest-growing sources of renewable energy, and the Department of Energy wants wind to generate 5 percent of the nation's electricity by 2020, compared with from less than 1 percent now.
Wind energy poses a dilemma for environmentalists who support its pollution-free electricity but have grown increasingly alarmed at its death toll on birds and bats.
The Altamont Pass in California, for example, kills an estimated 1,700 to 4,700 birds a year, including 880 to 1,300 federally protected raptors such as burrowing owls, red-tailed hawks and golden eagles. Meanwhile, thousands of bats have been killed by turbines on wind farms in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The GAO said that it was difficult to quantify wind power's impact on wildlife but noted that millions of birds are killed by other causes, such as collisions with buildings and towers, poisoning by pesticides and attacks by domestic and feral cats.
"In the context of other sources of avian mortalities, it does not appear that wind power is responsible for a significant number of dead birds," the GAO said.
The American Wind Energy Association, trade group for the wind power industry, seized on that conclusion.
"Despite its modest impacts, the more (wind) is used instead of fossil fuels, the better for the environment and for consumers," said the group's executive director, Randall Swisher.
The congressmen who requested the study, West Virginia Democrats Nick Rahall and Alan Mollohan, said the report showed that caution needed to be thrown to the wind industry.
"We must balance our use of our natural resources with their protection to help ensure that our robust tourism industry and sense of Mountaineer pride do not suffer from poor foresight," said Rahall, ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee.
Added Mollohan: "We don't have enough information about the number of birds and bats that are being killed, why they are being killed, or whether any effective strategies can be devised for keeping wildlife away from the blades."
The GAO said few studies have been done to determine effective solutions to minimize bat and bird deaths at wind farms.
Source: Associated Press