BS detector: Wind farm bird kills in Spain

Beware of estimates from environmentalists published as headlines. Exaggerations do no one any favours.

Spanish wind farms kill 6 to 18 million birds & bats a year

The average bird and bat deaths per turbine comes down to 333 – 1,000 deaths annually

I’m no fan of wind farms but these numbers set off my BS detector.  I do hate to see such scary but unsubstantiated numbers reported prominently in this way. Bird deaths due to wind turbines are not insignificant, but readers who genuinely care about such things are, in effect, being lied to; many will accept the numbers as fact.  They do their cause no favours when they repeat the ‘facts’ (ad nauseam).  The rest of us think ‘yeah right’. It is the environmental equivalent of “crying wolf” and it stirs the environmentalist in me because of the harm such irresponsible reporting does to causes which responsibly reporting genuine concerns.

Yesterday’s article in Canada Free Press supposedly reports the presentation of Mark Duchamp, president of Save the Eagles International (STEI), speaking at the First Scientific Congress on Wind Energy and Wildlife Conservation in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.  However it seems to be attributed to Duchamp himself, which instantly sets off alarm bells.

Duchamp has long been claiming that most turbine-associated deaths are grossly underreported and that it is foolish to allow environmental impact assessments to be directed and controlled by wind farm developers.

He claims that a new Spanish guide for evaluating the impact of wind farms on birds and bats by conservation organisation SEO/BirdLife (PDF here in Spanish) vindicates his concerns.

“This is what I have been claiming for years”, laments Mark, who has been banned from ornithology forums as an unwelcomed messenger of bad news. “I am now vindicated, but that won’t save the birds”, he says.

From my limited read of teh report itself (both scanning the Spanish and using Google Translate in parts) it explains how assessments can under report mortality, and sets out good practice in monitoring, aiming to improve the regulation of planning and impact assessments in Spain.

But Duchamp seems to be at odds with both sides. He is quoted elsewhere as saying:

“We cannot count on mainstream ornithologists and bird societies to save bird life from the windfarm threat. These derive much of their income from the windfarm business, and that creates a powerful conflict of interest that clouds their vision and corrupts their conscience.”

This is another reason to take his estimates with a pinch of salt.

The actual headline figure does come from the SEO report – from a box on page 11 ["How many birds are killed at wind farms?", extrapolating from very low rates of detection and supposing high (95%) rates of disappearance]. 

Nullius in verba of course – I needed to look at a few examples or real assessments.  A quick review of actual surveys show typically a tenth of the headline figure.  That is bad enough I suppose.

Most of the studies I looked at already included compensation for such things as low detection rate and high ‘disappearance’ of carcases due to predation. This study Impact of wind turbines on birds in Zeebrugge (Belgium) explains the accepted correction – the Winkleman Method:

Used formula to determine the total number of collision fatalities (Na=found number of collision fatalities, Cz=correction factor for search area (= 100/z, where z= the proportion searched surface (in %) of the total surface which should have to be searched), Cp=correction factor for scavenging (= 100/p, where p= the proportion of birds (in %) that were removed by predators during a scavenging-test, Ce=correction factor for search efficiency (= 100/e, where e= the proportion of birds (in %) that were found by the investigator).

N-estimated= Na*Cz*Cp*Ce

A scavenging test, for those who want to know, leaves out fresh carcases for a set period and assesses the loss.

This study concluded there was a “significant impact” on breeding colonies of terns from a wind farm near the Port of Zeebrugge:

The mean number of terns killed in 2004 and 2005 was 6.7 per turbine per year for the whole wind farm, and 11.2 resp. 10.8 per turbine per year for the line of 14 turbines on the sea-directed breakwater close to the breeding colony. The mean number of collision fatalities when including other species (mainly gulls) in 2004 and 2005 was 20.9 resp. 19.1 per turbine per year for the whole wind farm and 34.3 resp. 27.6 per turbine per year for 14 turbines on the sea-directed breakwater.

These figures were not just observed numbers, but corrected figures of up to ~500 birds in one windfarm per year for a single windfarm of 25 turbines.  Overall this gave a mortality rate between 0.6- 3.7% on adult breeding pairs across three tern species.

This was in a ‘high fly area’ beside breeding colonies. Could mortality go up from this area’s 20/turbine/year to 1000/turbine/year? That’s nearly three per day per wind turbine.  If levels really were that high would detection be that difficult? At least scavengers and predators would benefit. Anyone for a few studies to see how fat foxes are getting?

I suppose there are some who think this is the price we must pay for renewable energy.  There are enough bogus numbers spouted in support of wind turbines.  I just hope those opposed to wind farms do their own technical due diligence and aren’t taken in by the hyperbole of this article. ‘Null Points’ to CFP for allowing this to be published.

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8 Responses to BS detector: Wind farm bird kills in Spain

  1. gallopingcamel says:

    Wind turbine power fails at so many levels there is no need for making things up.

    Verity you are well named. Let’s stick to the truth even if it means losing the argument!

  2. Pingback: BS detector: Wind farm bird kills in Spain | Cranky Old Crow

  3. George says:

    Read an article recently about bats (sorry, not birds) and the fact that the turbine blade does not need to strike them to kill them and maybe it is the same with birds. Apparently if the bat flies through the trailing vortex of blade, it can damage their lungs. They had been finding dead bats with no broken bones. Postmortem showed their lungs had ruptured and they had suffocated.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080825132107.htm

    • Verity Jones says:

      Thanks – interesting article – what an awful thing. I am rather fond of bats. We have plenty around the house environs. Siting out on a warm evening you can see them overhead. I can hear the chirps.

  4. Mike Barnard says:

    Canada Free Press is about the least credible ‘media’ outlet going on wind energy. They’ll publish anything that is vitriolically attacking wind energy. Not Canadian by the way, but American; why they have the name they do is really unclear.

    There are useful debates to be had about wind energy. While I’m pro-wind, I agree completely that crap numbers on either side do no one any good in getting to the useful discussions where pragmatic decisions about grid management, carbon-neutrality, pollution, stability and specific siting to avoid impacts on endangered species can be hashed out.

    Mark Duchamp and his VP Jim Wiegand are hysterically shrieking fringe characters whose massive mischaracterizations of bird deaths get circulated among anti-wind groups as gospel, increasing the likelihood that those groups focused on important aspects of safety, reasonable setbacks and siting to avoid endangered bird species will be ignored instead of productively involved.

    Wiegand’s latest in this effort involves asserting that wind farms have killed more whooping cranes than actually exist, leading — illogically of course — to extinction in five years. In fact, no whooping crane has even been recorded as startled by a wind farm and the wind industry and whooping crane rehabilitation groups have been working hard for years to make sure that continues. Power lines have been re-routed, wind farm plans have been abandoned in a couple of places and operating wind farms are required to hire wildlife biologists during migration season to spot whooping cranes and call for complete shutdowns of wind farms if the cranes come within a mile. This is a tremendously successful effort on behalf of whooping cranes, one of the best news stories of bird population rehabilitation in the world, but you wouldn’t know it according to Save the Eagles International (which really means Jim and Mark).

    Thanks for calling STEI, Mark and Jim from inside the fold. They’re doing no one any favours.

    I’ve done an analysis of the whooping cranes, wind farms and Wiegand’s claims with complete references, appropriate quotes and links here:
    http://www.quora.com/Wind-Power/Are-wind-farms-killing-endangered-whooping-cranes

  5. Verity Jones says:

    “…crap numbers on either side do no one any good…”

    Ain’t that just the truth – and we’d better remember it.

  6. Jim Wiegand says:

    I recently reviewed a mortality impact study the showed approx 500-600 bird and bat fatalities per MW/ per year. Of course nothing close to this mortality was disclosed. It was hidden in rigged methodology and contrived formulas.

    For an in-depth look at the very darkest side to wind energy, everyone should read either one of these articles, “Hiding the slaughter” or “Big Wind & Avian Mortality” (Parts I and II: Hiding the Problem). Readers will have a better understanding of industry’s avian genocide and by supporting wind; they are supporting a completely fraudulent empire.

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