Skip to comments.Duke Energy Fine for Bird Kills is All Show, No Substance
Posted on 12/02/2013 12:32:10 PM PST by jazusamo
Last weeks punishment/settlement between the Department of Justice andDuke Energy over bird deaths caused by itswindturbines gives evidence that the Obama administration needed a scapegoat, to defuse accusations that it applies a double-standard in enforcement of wildlife laws.
The Friday before Thanksgiving both parties announced that Duke would pay $1 million for the deaths of more than 160 birds that are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The incidents occurred over the last four years at two Wyoming sites operated by the utilitys Duke Energy Renewables subsidiary.
This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects, said Robert Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Departments Environment and Natural Resources Division, in a statement.
Thats nice. The problem is the timing of the action coincided with a response by the Justice Department to Republican Sens. David Vitter (La.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). The delayed reaction came ten months after they challenged Attorney General Eric Holder over an obvious double standard, in which fossil-fueled energy producers have been penalized for killing birds, while wind energy was allowed to apply for permits to kill bald eagles and other protected birds.
It appears the Justice Department is hand-picking which migratory bird mortality cases to pursue with an obvious preference of going after oil and gas producers, said Vitter in a January 30 statement. For example, while three oil and gas companies are facing fines for killing birds, a wind energy company is applying for permits to kill up to fifteen bald eagles. We obviously don't want to see any indiscriminate killing of birds from any sort of energy production, yet the Justice Departments ridiculous inconsistencies begs questioning and clarity.
The senators waited, and waited, and waited for an answer. By mid-May they had still not received one, but again publicly questioned the administrations policy as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed wind operator Terra-Gen Power that they would not be subject to prosecution for killing California condors, another protected species.
Basically, the federal government has issued a condor hunting permit to big wind companies, said Sen. Alexander in May. Federal law designed to protect a species from extinction doesn't distinguish between oil and gas companies and wind farms. Equal protection of the law means laws should be enforced evenly, and its wrong for the Department of Justice to enforce the law against oil and gas companies but not against wind companies.
Two days after the Senators joint criticism, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) requested extensive documentation from the Fish and Wildlife Service about its decision-making regarding the enforcement of the Migratory Bird law and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and asked for a response by May 30. After five months the agency had not responded with the information and Hastings accordingly slammed Director Daniel Ashe in a follow-up letter on November 4.
Finally, two days before the settlement with Duke Energy was announced, the Justice Department answered Sens. Vitter and Alexander about their January inquiry. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Elliot Williams told the senators there has been no double standard in enforcement of the wildlife laws.
Violations of the (Migratory Bird Treaty Act) are referred to the Department only when companies fail to make good-faith efforts to avoid, minimize, and mitigate avian take, Williams wrote.
Nevertheless the delay and then the sudden confluence of Justices answer to the senators and the announcement of the Duke settlement gives the strong impression that Fish & Wildlife and the government lawyers wanted a scalp to show the senators that they are evenhanded in their pursuit of the law. But Vitter, for one, wasnt buying it.
It looks like DOJ is making an example out of this particular case to shift the focus away from the Administrations bias of using the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to go after oil, gas and other businesses, he said in a statement on Monday. The instances of wind energys favoritism have been so egregious under this Administration, and DOJs settlement and response still dont explain the Administrations obvious bias.
How biased? An independent study published by the Wildlife Society Bulletin, cited by the Daily Caller, found that 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed by wind projects in the U.S. every year. And according to the Fish and Wildlife Services own analysis, the number of birds killed is 440,000 per year, National Review reported. With those kinds of numbers its hard for Justice Department to make a serious case for no prosecutions under the migratory bird law.
So Duke Energy, the nations largest publicly owned utility and a close friend of the administration, was an obvious offender that could afford to step forward and take a hit for the overall cause of wind energy after all, $1 million is pocket change for the company that lives and breathes regulatory favoritism.
As NLPC has reported, Duke has been on a wind (and solar) project-buying spree for years. The utility, which sells its retail power to customers in the Carolinas, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida, has been building up its renewable resources for its wholesale energy delivery as well. The company, in part, benefits from the existence of renewable energy mandates in about 30 states, and lobbyists helped form North Carolinas standard which requires Duke to generate 12.5 percent of its power from renewables by the year 2021.
The stimulus also provided handsome subsidies for Duke Energy renewable projects, with theDepartment of Energyprovidinga $22 million grant for Dukes Notrees Windpower Project in Texas, more than half the estimated $43.6 million cost for the 20-megawatt energy storage experiment. And DOE also came through with $204 million under the Recovery Act for Dukes smart grid projects in the Midwest and in the Carolinas.
Duke followed with solar and wind energy projects that it has either purchased or launched, after announcements in 2007 inOhio (Duke Energy Ohio to Go Green),Indiana and the Carolinas that the company was seeking bids from providers of renewable power. Duke Energy is interested in talking with potential suppliers about purchased power agreements, purchasing a generating facility, or purchased power agreements with the option to buy the facility, a company press release said.
The buying bender of wind and solar projects immediately followed:100 wind turbines from GE and 1,000 megawatts of wind assets in Texas (Dec. 07);a 20-year commitment to buy solar power from SunEdison (May 08); the purchase of wind company Catamount Energy (June 08); and so on. Hardly a month has gone by since where Duke doesnt announce some new purchase of solar or wind resources, including this past week.
Mandates and subsidies arent the only things that make the economics of wind energy extremely profitable for Duke. As Glenn Schleede, a former Atomic Energy Commission official,has detailed in the past, utilities invested in wind and solar reap an array of financial breaks including Five-Year Double Declining Balance Accelerated Depreciation, which frees up massive amounts of tax-free cash from capital investments, and also reduces corporate income taxes. Duke also has benefited from the Federal Production Tax Credit, Investment Tax Credits or Production Tax Credits, additional state subsidies for utilities, and other Department of Energy subsidies such as research and development grants and contracts. As Schleede said, this transfers hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the pockets of ordinary taxpayers and electric customers to a few large corporations that own wind farms .
If there is any doubt left about Dukes cash flow thanks to renewables, recently departed CEO James Rogers told energy expert Robert Bryce in mid 2011 that wind subsidies enabled the utility to earn returns on equity of 17 to 22 percent .
So clearly, with wind energy bringing in so much money, a $1 million token fine over less than 200 bird deaths is not going to affect Duke Energy. The Charlotte-based utility frittered away at least ten times that much as a host of the Democratic National Convention last year.
Last week, writing for the Wall Street Journal, Bryce suggested the action by the Justice Department might mean the green bubble is about to burst with possibly more actions coming. But its hard to imagine the Obama administration doing much more of significance on that front after it has poured billions of dollars into the expansion of renewables via grants, loans and subsidies.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com , an aggregator of North Carolina news.
Looks like Duke Energy played footsie with the Kenyan and got burnt in the process. Typical.
Absolute insanity. I thought wind turbines were environmentally safe?! How will this ‘business’ survive with paying fines for killing birds, when there’s no reasonable way to NOT kill the birds?
Unless the DOJ, FF&W and 0bama keep going after these wind energy companies for bird kills, which is doubtful, this fine is nothing compared to the tax credits and subsidies they get from the feds and states.
“Looks like Duke Energy played footsie with the Kenyan and got burnt in the process. Typical.”
Duke recently forced the early retirement of CEO Rogers after a messy boardroom fight resulting in Rogers abruptly firing his designated successor the day the successor was supposed to step into the job. Rogers, who paid millions out of company coffers for the DNC to come to Charlotte, is a big promoter of green energy and was on the short list for the Secretary of Energy job when Obama was elected in 2008. Likely this is payback to the Duke board and shareholders for terminating a friend of Barack.
Electricity generated from renewable energy resources is an environmentally-preferred alternative to conventionally produced electricity from fossil fuel and nuclear power plants. Many people believe that wind turbines should be part of the solution to a healthier environment, not part of the problem.
Over the past fifteen years, a number of reports have appeared in the popular press about wind turbines killing birds. Some writers have gone so far as to dub wind generators "raptor-matics" and "cuisinarts of the sky". Unfortunately, some of these articles have been used as "evidence" to stop the construction of a wind generator in someone's back yard. The reports of dead birds create a dilemma. Do wind generators really kill birds? If so, how serious is the problem?
A confused public oftentimes does not know what to believe. Many people participate in the U.S.'s second largest past time, bird watching. Other's are truly concerned about the environment and what they perceive as yet another assault on our fragile ecosystem. Unwittingly, they rally behind the few ill-informed obstructionists who have realized that the perception of bird mortality due to wind turbines is a hot button issue, with the power to bring construction to a halt.
Birds live a tenuous existence. There are any number of things that can cause their individual deaths or collective demise. For example, bird collisions with objects in nature are a rather common occurrence, and young birds are quite clumsy when it comes to landing on a perch after flight. As a result, about 30% of total first-year bird deaths are attributed to natural collisions.
By far, the largest causes of mortality among birds include loss of habitat due to human infringement, environmental despoliation, and collisions with man-made objects. Since wind turbines fall into the last category, it is worthwhile to examine other human causes of avian deaths and compare these to mortality from wind turbines.
Utility transmission and distribution lines, the backbone of our electrical power system, are responsible for 130 to 174 million bird deaths a year in the U.S.1 Many of the affected birds are those with large wingspans, including raptors and waterfowl. While attempting to land on power lines and poles, birds are sometimes electrocuted when their wings span between two hot wires. Many other birds are killed as their flight paths intersect the power lines strung between poles and towers. One report states that: "for some types of birds, power line collisions appear to be a significant source of mortality." 2
Collisions with automobiles and trucks result in the deaths of between 60 and 80 million birds annually in the U.S.3 As more vehicles share the roadway, and our automotive society becomes more pervasive, these numbers will only increase. Our dependence on oil has taken its toll on birds too. Even the relatively high incidence of bird kills at Altamont Pass (about 92 per year) pales in comparison to the number of birds killed from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. In fact, according to author Paul Gipe, the Altamont Pass wind farm would have to operate for 500 to 1000 years to "achieve" the same mortality level as the Exxon Valdez event in 1989.
Tall building and residential house windows also claim their share of birds. Some of the five million tall buildings in U.S. cities have been documented as being a chronic mortality problem for migrating birds. There are more than 100 million houses in the U.S. House windows are more of a problem for birds in rural areas than in cities or towns. While there are no required ongoing studies of bird mortality due to buildings or house windows, the best estimates put the toll due collisions with these structures at between 100 million and a staggering 1 billion deaths annually.4
Lighted communication towers turn out to be one of the more serious problems for birds, especially for migratory species that fly at night. One study began its conclusion with, "It is apparent from the analysis of the data that significant numbers of birds are dying in collisions with communications towers, their guy wires, and related structures."5 Another report states, "The main environmental problem we are watching out for with telecommunication towers are the deaths of birds and bats."6
This is not news, as bird collisions with lighted television and radio towers have been documented for over 50 years. Some towers are responsible for very high episodic fatalities. One television transmitter tower in Eau Claire, WI, was responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 birds on each of 24 consecutive nights. A "record 30,000 birds were estimated killed on one night" at this same tower.7 In Kansas, 10,000 birds were killed in one night by a telecommunications tower.8 Numerous large bird kills, while not as dramatic as the examples cited above, continue to occur across the country at telecommunication tower sites.
The number of telecommunication towers in the U.S. currently exceeds 77,000, and this number could easily double by 2010. The rush to construction is being driven mainly by our use of cell phones, and to a lesser extent by the impending switch to digital television and radio. Current mortality estimates due to telecommunication towers are 40 to 50 million birds per year.9 The proliferation of these towers in the near future will only exacerbate this situation.
Agricultural pesticides are "conservatively estimated" to directly kill 67 million birds per year.10 These numbers do not account for avian mortality associated with other pesticide applications, such as on golf courses. Nor do they take into consideration secondary losses due to pesticide use as these toxic chemicals travel up the food chain. This includes poisoning due to birds ingesting sprayed insects, the intended target of the pesticides.
Cats, both feral and housecats, also take their toll on birds. A Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) report states that, "recent research suggests that rural free-ranging domestic cats in Wisconsin may be killing between 8 and 217 million birds each year. The most reasonable estimates indicate that 39 million birds are killed in the state each year."11
There are other studies on the impacts of jet engines, smoke stacks, bridges, and any number of other human structures and activities that threaten birds on a daily basis. Together, human infrastructure and industrial activities are responsible for one to four million bird deaths per day!
But what about wind turbines?
Commercial wind turbines
Since the mid-1980's, a number of research organizations, universities, and consultants have conducted studies on avian mortality due to wind turbines. In the U.S., these studies were prompted because of the relatively high number of raptors that were found dead at the Altamont Pass Wind Farms near San Francisco.
After dozens of studies spanning nearly two decades, we now know that the Altamont Pass situation is unusual in the U.S. The high raptor mortality there was the result of a convergence of factors, some of which were due to the bad siting in the local ecosystem while others were due to the wind turbine and tower technology used at the time. In fact, a very different situation exists not far away at the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farms near Palm Springs. A 1986 study found that 69 million birds flew though the San Gorgonio Pass during the Spring and Fall migrations. During both migrating seasons, only 38 dead birds were found during that typical year, representing only 0.00006% of the migrating population.
A report recently prepared for the Bonneville Power Administration in the Northwest U.S. states that "raptor mortality has been absent to very low at all newer generation wind plants studied in the U.S. This and other information regarding wind turbine design and wind plant/wind turbine siting strongly suggests that the level of raptor mortality observed at Altamont Pass is quite unique."12
The National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) completed a comparison of wind farm avian mortality with bird mortality caused by other man-made structures in the U.S.
The NWCC did not conduct its own study, but analyzed all of the research done to date on various causes of avian mortality, including commercial wind farm turbines. They report that "data collected outside California indicate an average of 1.83 avian fatalities per turbine (for all species combined), and 0.006 raptor fatalities per turbine per year. Based on current projections of 3,500 operational wind turbines in the US by the end of 2001, excluding California, the total annual mortality was estimated at approximately 6,400 bird fatalities per year for all species combined."13
This report states that its intent is to "put avian mortality associated with windpower development into perspective with other significant sources of avian collision mortality across the United States."14 The NWCC reports that: "Based on current estimates, windplant related avian collision fatalities probably represent from 0.01% to 0.02% (i.e., 1 out of every 5,000 to 10,000) of the annual avian collision fatalities in the United States."15 That is, commercial wind turbines cause the direct deaths of only 0.01% to 0.02% of all of the birds killed by collisions with man-made structures and activities in the U.S.
Back in Wisconsin
My home state of Wisconsin is a good example of current research. In December of 2002, the report "Effects of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats in Northeast Wisconsin" was released. The study was completed by Robert Howe and Amy Wolf of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and William Evans. Their study covered a two-year period between 1999 and 2001, in the area surrounding the 31 turbines operating in Kewaunee County by Madison Gas & Electric (MG&E) and Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) Corporation.
The report found that over the study period, 25 bird carcasses were found at the sites. The report states that "the resulting mortality rate of 1.29 birds/tower/year is close to the nationwide estimate of 2.19 birds/tower.16- The report further states, "While bird collisions do occur (with commercial wind turbines) the impacts on global populations appear to be relatively minor, especially in comparison with other human-related causes of mortality such as communications towers, collisions with buildings, and vehicles collisions. This is especially true for small scale facilities like the MG&E and WPS wind farms in Kewaunee County."17
The report goes on to say, "previous studies suggest that the frequency of avian collisions with wind turbines is low, and the impact of wind power on bird populations today is negligible. Our study provides little evidence to refute this claim."18
So, while wind farms are responsible for the deaths of some birds, when put into the perspective of other causes of avian mortality, the impact is quite low. In other words, bird mortality at wind farms, compared to other human-related causes of bird mortality, is biologically and statistically insignificant. There is no evidence that birds are routinely being battered out of the air by rotating wind turbine blades as postulated by some in the popular press.
Home-sized wind systems
How does all of this impact the homeowner who wishes to secure a building permit to install a wind generator and tower on his or her property? They will likely still be quizzed by zoning officials or a concerned public with little to go on but the sensational headlines in the regional press. But while the press may or may not get the facts right, peoples' concerns are real, and need to be addressed with factual information such as is presented here.
While there have been any number of studies done on bird mortality caused by commercial wind installations, none have been done on the impact of home-sized wind systems on birds. The reason? It is just not an issue, especially when "big" wind's impact on birds is considered biologically insignificant.
When confronted with the question of why there were no studies done on home-sized wind systems and birds, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources person familiar with these issues responded, "it is not even on the radar screen." There has never been a report or documentation of a home-sized wind turbine killing birds in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, or any other government or research organization for that matter, just does not have the financial resources to conduct a study just because a zoning official requests it, especially given the lack of evidence nationwide that any problem exists with home-sized turbines. Based on our best available information, the relatively smaller blades and short tower heights of residential wind energy systems do not present a threat to birds.
See also: Bats and Wind Turbines
1. National Wind Coordinating Committee Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A Summary of Existing Studies and Comparisons to Other Sources of Avian Collision Mortality in the United States (NWCC), p. 10.
2. NWCC, p. 10.
3. NWCC, p. 8.
4. Tower Kill p. 2.
5. Communication Towers: A Deadly Hazard To Birds p. 19.
6. Battered By Airwaves p. 6.
7. Battered By Airwaves p. 4.
8. Communication Tower Guidelines Could Protect Migrating Birds p. 2.
9. NWCC p. 12.
10. The Environmental and Economic Costs of Pesticide Use p. 1.
11. Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma p. 2.
12. Synthesis and Comparison of Baseline Avian and Bat Use, Raptor Nesting and Mortality information from Proposed and Existing Wind Developments p. 7.
13. NWCC p. 2.
14. NWCC p. 1.
15. NWCC p. 2.
16. Effects of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats in Northeast Wisconsin p. 68.
17. Effects of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats in Northeast Wisconsin p. 75.
18. Effects of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats in Northeast Wisconsin p. 67.
Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A Summary of Existing Studies and Comparisons to Other Sources of Avian Collision Mortality in the United States; National Wind
Coordinating Committee; West, Inc.; August, 2001
Battered By Airwaves; Wendy K. Weisenel; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; October, 2002.
Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma; John S. Coleman, Stanley A. Temple, and Scott R. Craven; University of Wisconsin-Extension; 1997.
Communication Towers: A Deadly Hazard To Birds; Gavin G. Shire, Karen Brown, and Gerald Winegrad; American Bird Conservancy; Jume, 2000.
Communication Tower Guidelines Could Protect Migrating Birds; Cat Laazaroff; Environmental News Service; 2002.
Effects of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats in Northeast Wisconsin; Robert W. Howe, William Evans, and Amy T. Wolf; November, 2002.
Synthesis and Comparison of Baseline Avian and Bat Use, Raptor Nesting and Mortality information from Proposed and Existing Wind Developments; West, Inc.; December, 2002
The Environmental and Economic Costs of Pesticide; David Pimentel and H. Acquay; Bioscience; November, 1992.
Tower Kill; Joe Eaton; Earth Island Journal; Winter, 2003.
-- Mick Sagrillo, Sagrillo Power & Light Co.
Windmills (otherwise known as bird blenders) should be banned.
The birds are the least of my problems with wind “energy”.
I hear you. Subsidies, grants and tax credits are the only way these wind farms exist and the cost of the power is still too high to the consumer.
There is great criminality involved in the money-shuffling done by these power companies and politicians. Where is a good forensic accountant when needed? Most of these DIMs and their crony-capitalist buddies need to be imprisoned. CRIMINALS ALL.
You nailed it, couldn’t agree more. 0bama and thugs have taken crony capitalism to a pathetic new high.