Audubon Statement on Wind Power
Statement by Former Audubon President John Flicker, published in Audubon Magazine, November-December 2006
For years environmentalists have been touting the benefits of generating electricity from pollution-free wind power. As the threats of global warming loom ever larger, alternative energy sources like wind power are essential. (For a more detailed discussion of wind power see "Selling the Wind," in the September-October issue.)
For Audubon, wind power is a good news, bad news story. The good news is that many new wind-power projects are being proposed across the country. For example, not long ago I flew over South Dakota and saw hundreds of wind turbines dotting the landscape. The state of Texas recently announced its intention to become the country's wind-power capital.
The bad news is that wind turbines sometimes kill a lot of birds. Some early wind projects like Altamont in California are notorious for killing many raptors, including golden eagles. Modern wind turbines are much safer for birds than their predecessors, but if they are located in the wrong places, they can still be hazardous and can fragment critical habitat. In cases where the birds affected are already in trouble, such as sage grouse in windy parts of the plains states, the turbines could push them closer to extinction.
On balance, Audubon strongly supports wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming. Location, however, is important. Many National Audubon Society Chapters and State Programs are actively involved in wind-power siting issues in their communities. Each project has a unique set of circumstances and should be evaluated on its own merits.
In Massachusetts, Mass Audubon (which is an independent state Audubon organization) recently completed an extensive review of the proposed Cape Wind project on Nantucket Sound that set a new standard for analyzing the potential effects of wind turbines on birds.
Every source of energy has some environmental consequences. Most of today's rapidly growing demand for energy is now being met by natural gas and expanded coal-burning power plants, which are this country's single greatest source of the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming. If we don't find ways to reduce these emissions, far more birds--and people--will be threatened by global warming than by wind turbines. Our challenge is thus to help design and locate wind-power projects that minimize the negative impacts on birds.
The federal Energy Production Tax Credit is another area where we can help. This tax credit is essential to making wind power economically feasible. Unfortunately, Congress extended the credit for only two years, which encourages wind project developers to cut corners on siting, design and environmental reviews so that they can get projects approved before the credit expires. Please contact members of Congress and ask them to make the Energy Production Tax Credit for wind power permanent.