Windmills of the mighty

🕔Jul 24, 2007

If the offshore wind energy movement has a future, it will need to be in collaboration with communities and citizens. Criticizing wind farm opponents as selfishly uninterested in saving the planet from global warming misses the point that degrading one environment to save another is not progress.1
Wind farms the world over are meeting opposition as the rush to reduce our carbon footprint in the stratosphere takes root, and the haste to make a vast dollar from wind farm technology takes wing.
Are mighty wind farms the answer? They may not be. A huge project planned for Cumbria in Britain claims to reduce carbon emissions by 178,000 tonnes a year, yet a Jumbo jet flying daily from London to Miami produces 520,000 tonnes a year.2 The reduction may not be worth it.
Plans to put an offshore wind farm on the rich fishing grounds of Hecate Strait are meeting resistance. Peter Hamel, President of the Delkatla Sanctuary Society on Haida Gwaii, has been documenting the birds of the islands for over twenty-five years. “It is urgent that the proponents look for a more environmentally friendly site, preferably on land,” says Hamel.
“Our research shows that wind turbines are deadly to birds. Bird life in Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance is a natural treasure. More than twenty million birds and over 160 species pass through the proposed wind farm site. The western half of Hecate Strait is a strategic section of the Offshore Pacific Flyway that begins in southern Chile and ends on the north slope of Alaska and the Yukon,” he continues.
“The wind farm constitutes a 550-square-kilometre bird hazard, covering an area 25 kms long, 15 kms wide at the north end and 25 kms wide at the south end.”
“It would effectively block the most important international offshore flyway between Chile and the north slope of Alaska and the Yukon.”
Hamel is not the only one concerned with the effects of wind farms on birds. On April 30, Dr. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy testified before a US Senate House subcommittee that “there has been much discussion and almost no real action on the part of the wind industry to resolve bird collision issues. Efforts to successfully address the impacts of wind projects on birds and wildlife have been a failure.”
“This growing alternative energy source is killing between 30,000 to 60,000 birds a year, including Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Burrowing Owls, Mourning Doves, Bluebirds and over 50 species of migratory songbirds,” he says. “At the current mortality rate, and growth rate of the wind industry, by 2030 a projected 900,000 to 1.8 million birds would be killed per year by wind turbines, unless protective measures are implemented.”
Europeans have used wind technology for years, but the constant stream of reported bird deaths finally got to the Spanish government, which commissioned a number of reports. The writer of one, Dr. Lekuona, observed that “…we have witnessed large flocks refusing to cross the (lines of turbines)… The effects were the dispersal into smaller groups and the presence, in the vicinity of the wind farms, of disoriented birds unable to follow their original flight trajectory, and in some cases situations of risk of collision for the smaller bands.”
Among 6,450 dead birds, Dr. Lekuona evaluates that 40% were migrating. “On several occasions,” he continued, “we have witnessed loss of feathers…reactions of panic, and deadly collisions.”
“Picture the wind farm in Hecate Strait,” Hamel says. “A turbine, 80 metres (240 ft) high, with turning blades 52 m long. The blade tip speed at 18 revs per minute averages 336 km per hour. A Short-tailed Shearwater, having travelled from the southern seas, soars above the waves. It’s hungry, concentrating on food in the water. It doesn’t see the tip of the turbine and gets sliced in half. We will never see the remains of the bird after it falls in the water.”
“The enormity of this project is beyond comprehension,” Hamel continues. “With the completion of the projected five phases there will be 335 to 550 wind turbine towers on the Dogfish Banks. The propeller diameter on each one will be greater than the length of a football field.”
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) also has a few things to say about a planned wind farm on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. “Wind farms are massive industrial complexes. Each turbine will require a concrete foundation of about 1,800 square metres, plus an area of hard standing for the installation cranes,” says Anne McCall, RSPB’s planning manager. “The development will require more that 100 miles of roads, nine electrical sub-stations and a control building, as well as 210 pylons.”
“Both the RSPB and National Audubon Society support wind farms if they are properly sited,” says Hamel. “And that’s the big issue here. We’re not against wind farms outright, but this project needs to be sited on land and not in the biologically rich waters of Hecate Strait.”

Green or greedy?

The NaiKun wind farm makes no logistical sense to many Haida Gwaii residents. Some think that the proposal has nothing to do with green and everything to do with greed.
It appears that it is mainly the wind power industry that is putting on the pressure; they have their eyes on the subsidies that western governments, desperate to meet Kyoto targets, have ready. AMEC, the developer pushing for the wind project on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, hopes to make the equivalent of $140 million (Canadian) a year. Farmers in Spain are paid huge amounts to have a turbine on their property, and have been known to bury dead birds killed by wind turbines so the mortalities won’t be recorded.3
The environmental impacts of the huge wind factories now planned are irreversible. For one, they require anchorage. Five million cubic metres of rock and two point five million cubic metres of peat bog will be excavated at Lewis. How will they be built in Hecate Strait?
The turbines also have to be maintained, the hub oiled regularly. Where does the oil go? Turbines in Denmark have burst into flames, emitting oily black smoke.
Furthermore, the towers deteriorate over time. In the case of Hecate Strait, they’ll be planted on shifting sand in a high earthquake zone. After a few days of hurricane-force winds, they may lie rusting and leaking on Rose Spit.
Liam Davis of Tlell concurs. “What impacts on erosion patterns would these wind towers have. Has any study been undertaken to assess what the effects will be, given the currents, wave action, prevailing winds etc? This is a very volatile and unstable area. Surely it would be much better suited to a land-based site.”
The coastal crab fishermen fear for their future if this project goes ahead. Jeff Thorgeirson of Masset doesn’t think they will be able to fish the area at all, and Geoff Gould, Executive Director of Area “A” Crab Association states quite simply that “we do not want these towers located on the seabed in areas that are actively fished.” His overlay map shows that the planned wind farm is right in the middle of the main crabbing area. He also has concerns with the undersea cables. “The electromagnetic field from these cables could interfere with crab migration patterns…” “The World Wildlife Fund seems to think that power of the wind is a huge resource, “ Hamel concludes. “But not all islanders share this sentiment.”
“Chief Seattle got it right: ‘How can we buy or sell the sky? We do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water.’4 But, tragically, that’s what the proponents want to do.”
1 Susan Nickerson, Executive Director, Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound
2 George Monbiot; Guardian Weekly
3 www.iberica.2000
4 Chief Seathl through the words of screenwriter Ted Perry, 1971