NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Victims of Big Wind

December 24, 2003

Some environmental groups in California are opposing permits for wind turbines at wind farms in the state because of the death toll from the whirling blades of wind turbines. Threatened and migratory bird species are among the victims:

  • Scientists estimate as many as 44,000 birds have been killed over the past two decades by wind turbines in the Altamont Pass, east of San Francisco.
  • The victims include kestrels and red-tailed hawks, and the area is also home to the largest resident population of golden eagles in the lower 48 states, and an average of 50 golden eagles are killed each year.

There are 7,000 wind turbines at the Altamont wind farm, built in the early 1980s when little was known about the migration patterns of birds in nearby areas.

There are wind farms in 29 states, and they provide about 1 percent of the nation's energy, but that could increase to 6 percent by 2020, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The bird deaths have led some environmental groups that support wind power to oppose permits for the Altamont site.

The controversy over bird kills has "delayed and even significantly contributed to blocking the development of some wind plants in the U.S.," according to a 2001 report commissioned by the National Wind Coordinating Committee, an industry advocacy group. For instance, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is opposing a proposed 28-acre offshore wind farm off Cape Cod because of environmental concerns.

Companies can be fined for every protected bird that is killed by the wind turbines. But a citation has yet to be issued at Altamont.

Source: Kimberly Edds, "Peril in the Wind Industry: Turbines That Produce Clean Energy Also Kill Migrating Birds," Washington Post, December 24, 2003.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues