By Jim Wiegand, wildlife biologist
September 27, 2013 (San Diego's East County) -- While Altamont Pass operators have been hiding most of their wind turbine mortality with search intervals of 30-90 days, the rest of North American wind farms hide mortality by using search areas that are far too small. By using only 50 meter search areas for their huge new turbines, the wind facility operators can easily hide over 90% of fatalities caused from turbine blade strikes.
The motive is obvious. The more avian bloodshed, the more public outcry. The more outcry, the less money for wind industry players. The more they hide the ecological devastation, the more they mute the outcry and maintain the flow of subsidies for wind power.
The horrendous impacts on bird and bat populations across North America are of little concern to these special interests.
Wind turbine mortality facts
Studies I have examined make it clear that the wind industry has known for more than ten years that the average distance a carcass travels from a wind turbine is about two and a half to three times the length of the wind turbine blades. The industry has also known for years that about 85% of fatalities can be found within a 50-meter search radius around small 100-kW turbines with blades a mere 8-9 meters long. These facts are well documented in the 1998-2003 studies at Altamont Pass based on the locations of hundreds of bird fatalities.
In 2009, the industry reported another similar and supporting statistic. An Altamont study concluded that 95% of all fatalities from these same small turbines could be found within 125 meters from turbine towers. The average size of the approximately 2,500 turbines in the study was 107 kW. The remaining 5% of fatalities is attributed to birds that fly or wander off mortally wounded, after being hit by turbine blades.
Today, the industry's huge turbines are 25-45 times larger than the thousands of turbines studied at Altamont, in terms of electricity output and area swept by their much longer blades. The big blades are over 50 meters long, and their tip speeds are 25-33% faster, than for the small turbines. These higher tip speeds propel bodies and severed parts much further from turbines.
Using these data and adjusting for the vast difference in turbine and blade size, some 95% of the turbine mortality can be expected to be found within 400 meters of a 2.3-MW.
A three-year study at Altamont confirms this. (See Figure 1.) The study was conducted around 38 1-MW wind turbines with a 75-meter search radius. Carcass location was documented, and 71% of the fatalities found by searchers were beyond the 29-meter length of the turbine blades. The fewest fatalities were found under the blades and around the turbine towers.
This clearly demonstrates that even the 75-meter search limit employed in this study was undersized for this turbine. Had the search perimeter been set properly, far more fatalities would have been found and well over 90% of them would have been located beyond the length of the blades. The grossly inadequate search area, however, helps ensure that official bird (and bat) mortalities are kept artificially (and fraudulently) low – and the public is kept in the dark about the true impact of these supposedly “environment friendly” wind turbines.
The study also used Altamont's absurd 30-day search intervals, which ensures that most of the carcasses are taken away by scavengers, and thus “disappear” before searchers have a chance to find them. This clever tactic drives the fatality counts even lower.
Nevertheless, the study has been presented as one of the wind industry’s primary justifications for asserting that its new turbines are safer for bird and bats.
Making the claims even more ridiculous and misleading, the industry’s newest turbines are much larger, much taller, with much faster tip speeds than even the 1-MW variety. The new 2.3-MW turbines are 130 meters (426 feet) tall and have 50-meter (164-foot) blades – meaning the total distance swept by the spinning blades is 108 meters (354 feet) – or 54 meters (127 feet) in each direction from the center of the turbine tower and rotor.
And yet, the industry is still employing a 50-meter search perimeter for these huge turbines. That doesn’t even cover the distance overshadowed by the blades, much less the areas into which butchered birds and bats are likely to be catapulted by the enormous force of monstrous blades that are moving at 200 miles per hour.
Using the industry’s approximation that 80-85% of fatalities are found within 50 meters of small 100-kWwind turbines, I created a graphic that compares carcass distributions in equal proportion to the industry's large turbines. (See Figure 2.) For a turbine 130 meters tall with 50-meter blades, 85% of the fatalities can be expected to fall within 183 meters (600 feet) of the turbine tower!
This is far beyond the 50-meter search area employed by the wind industry – with the approval and connivance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bird protection and environmental groups, the California Fish and Game Commission, and their counterparts in Canada and elsewhere.
Moreover, this preliminary analysis does not account for the increased blade tip speeds on 2.3-MW turbines, compared to 100-kW or even 1-MW turbines. Adjusting for blade tip speeds, one can expect that 85% of the bird carcasses and body parts will actually be found 200 meters (655 feet) or more from the center of turbine towers.
All these facts have been studiously and deliberately ignored by the wind industry. It continues to use its “approved” 50-meter search radius as the standard. In fact, this is the area where the fewest fatalities are likely to be found: under the blades and in the gravel area immediately around the turbine towers. It likely eliminates at least 90% of carcasses that are being launched by turbine blades and dropped well outside of their tiny search areas.
The Wolf Island studies
In early 2011, the company that owns and operates the 86 wind turbines on Wolfe Island released its first mortality study. After making “adjustments,” the study estimated that the turbines killed 602 birds and 1,270 bats between July 1 and December 31, 2009; and additional 549 birds and 450 bats were killed between January 1 and June 30, 2010. The total fatality toll for the twelve months was estimated to be 1,141 birds, 24 raptors, and 1,720 bats.
The huge number of fatalities generated extensive negative publicity around the world, and the Wolfe Island wind installation quickly became known as Canada’s deadliest energy facility. In response to this criticism’ and under the direction of the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources, new “management” procedures were adopted that would supposedly reduce these turbine impacts. Follow-up studies “indicated” that the new procedures for were having a positive impact and Wolfe Island wind turbine mortality was being reduced.
In reality, the “management” procedures had little or nothing to do with actually reducing bird and bat deaths – and everything to do with reducing official death tolls and bad publicity. The supposed reduction in mortality is easily and more accurately explained by the fact that Wolfe Island “researchers” are now spending less time in the field and looking at smaller search areas.
There are so many problems with the Wolfe Island studies that they cannot possibly be addressed in one article. However, it is clear from the study data and information that most of the mortality from the 86 turbines is simply not being reported.
My research also revealed that the guidelines and bogus monitoring protocols for Wolfe Island were apparently put together under the direction of the Canadian Renewable Energy Corporation (“CREC”), Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service (“EC”), Natural Resources Canada (“NRCan”), Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (“MNR”) and Ducks Unlimited Canada (“DUC”). A similar pattern is apparent with government agencies and conservation groups in the United States.
One can hardly avoid the conclusions that these organizations are deliberately obfuscating and hiding the bird and bat butchery to advance a “green” agenda. They have decided that oil, gas and coal are environmentally damaging – whereas wind power is “eco-friendly” – and the facts will not be allowed to get in the way. Far too much money, power and prestige are at stake. Aggressive businessmen hiding behind an environmental movement have taken over the government agencies and conservation groups, and forged partnerships with the wind industry and its political supporters. They are determined that the Canadian and American publics will not learn the truth about avian fatalities.
The anti-hydrocarbon agenda, in short, trumps wildlife protection. It also breeches the standards and ethics this country is based upon.
Among the bogus “management” strategies included in the new Wolfe Island “monitoring” plan were that search areas would be limited to 50 meters (shorter than each turbine’s blade length) and 85% of fatalities would be assumed to be located within 50 meters. These strategies are clearly fraudulent, because (as explained above) the search areas for these 2.3-MW turbines should have been at least 200 meters. And yet, all these groups signed off on the new schemes.
The so called Wolfe Island “monitoring plan” also allowed workers searching for fatalities to avoid searching the entire 50-meter areas, as long as they “factored in” the percentage of the area that had actually been searched. The plan also allowed monitoring teams to block out certain areas from within the 50-meter search radius and exclude any carcasses that were found outside the remaining search areas.
These monitoring protocols for Wolfe Island effectively ensure that mortality searches around turbines are now conducted primarily on the gravel areas around the turbines and away from the primary direction of carcass throw. (See Figure 3.) In other words, the protocols are specifically designed to focus on the areas that are least likely to have bird and bat carcasses and body parts. These areas are also the easiest areas for wind personnel to pre scan for bodies ahead of searches.
An examination of the studies makes it abundantly clear the mortality analyses are replete with patterns of carcass dispersal that are not only non-random, but impossible. I ran some calculations for these carcass dispersal patterns, to determine the likelihood of these events taking place. I got probability numbers in the quintillions! (See Figure 4).
It is clear that researchers were only looking in only small sections of deliberately too-small 50-meters radius search areas. Equally disturbing, search teams, wind industry personnel, lease holders, and farmers tilling the soil around turbines would not mention the obvious presence of carcasses cast about by the turbines.
An eyewitness sees massive geese slaughter occur right before his eyes
“On Friday morning, September 30 at 9:30 am, it was surprising to personally witness the destruction of a flight of Canadian Geese by one of the Wolfe Island turbines. Here is what happened; from a clear view second floor window at our home on Tibbetts Point Rd. I watched geese lift off and form up along the shore of Wolfe Island. At about a hundred feet of altitude they wheeled into the wind, headed in a west/southwesterly direction. As their climb into a headwind slowly took them over Wolfe the wind speed gauge at our house continued to read a strong and steady 22-25 mph. It was overcast. The river was rolling.
“Crossing Wolfe, they flew into the plane of spinning turbine blades. This one turbine is directly across from our home and close to us at about a mile and a half. Through 8X binoculars the carnage was mesmerizing.
“Imagine a scene of blade impacts repeatedly knocking dark puffs of feathers against a grey sky. With such a strong wind, limp bodies seemed to be blown backwards out of the turbine. Amazingly the rear of the flight followed into the blades. They seemed oblivious to the destruction of their leaders. With strong headwinds slowing their passage the period of danger and destruction was prolonged. After about two-thirds entered this gauntlet, the flight finally broke off, lost its V shape and scattered.”
This eye witness account does not match any of the Wolfe Island mortality studies. Swans, geese, and ducks by the thousands use the habitat around the Wolfe island turbines. These species are routinely observed foraging in the fields around the turbines – and yet the death of geese and other waterfowl are mysteriously missing from official studies.
This underscores yet another aspect of these studies: the species fatality lists are bogus.
The only waterfowl found reported killed by the turbines were a few mallards over a three-year period. The reports show no geese or swans – and no owls, eagles, falcons or many other highly sensitive species that use the Wolfe Island habitat. Yet, wind turbines are known to kill every flying species that share the same habitat. The official counts are simply impossible, especially when mortality estimates explode into the thousands after being properly adjusted.
Rigged data with proper adjustments
When properly adjusted, the numbers coming out of Wolfe Island are staggering. As I have pointed out, the studies used undersized search areas. When corrected for 200 meters (0.0625 factor – meaning the original study ignored 94% of the area that should have been searched) and searcher efficiency of 0.5 (50% of carcasses actually found), the July-December 2009 estimated mortality of 602 birds can be corrected to 12,505 birds.
When the searcher efficiency for bats is adjusted with a far more accurate 0.4 (40% of carcasses found) rating instead of a 0.630 rating, the estimated bat mortality skyrockets from 1,270 to 31,973 bats in just six months.
Along with the undersized search areas, in the all studies researchers improperly gave themselves elevated adjustment factors that allowed them to calculate fewer mortalities. The searcher efficiency rating of 1.0 for raptors is patently ridiculous, because it means they were claiming that they were not missing any raptor carcasses. A 0.7 rating is far more likely, because the terrain around the turbines is far from being just gravel and many of the raptor species are small.
With a 0.7 (70%) searcher efficiency rating, and considering that only 85% of dead raptors will be found in even a 200-meter search area, mortality should be considered to be, not merely 23 (as claimed) – but around 541 raptors for the twelve-month period, July 2009 through June 2010, for the 86-turbine Wolfe Island installation.
The industry researchers “adjusted” all their Wolf Island studies, using searcher efficiency ratings that are not possible with the mixed habitat surrounding the turbines.
For example, Figure 4 shows the native vegetation surrounding the turbines. In this habitat the searcher efficiency rating for small birds and bats could not be any better than 0.2 (that is, they miss 80%), unless several people spent hours at each turbine with each visit – which never happens. In fact, searchers only spent a few minutes around each turbine with each visit, making their self-proclaimed searcher efficiency ratings completely false and unreliable. Nevertheless, in the studies, they used a factor of 0.8, as if they only missed 20% of the carcasses.
Wolfe Island studies for the last available year of research reported lower mortality – allowing the industry, government agencies and environmental groups to report “success” in “reducing” bird and bat mortalities. However, this “reduction” is easily explained by fewer searches conducted, less time spent on each mortality search, and absurdly small search areas employed.
Based on carcass locations reported, searchers only examined a total area equivalent to about 1/6 of a 50-meter search radius around each turbine (1/6 of 7,854 square meters or 0.33 acres) – when they should have searched a 200-meter-radius area (31 acres), an area 94 times larger.
Again, mortalities officially recorded in the industry’s two 2011 6 month reports totaled 442 birds, 24 raptors, and 533 bats. In reality, taking into account the various methods used to minimize carcass counts, the Wolfe Island turbines are actually slaughtering 644 raptors, 21,512 other birds, and 29,831 bats!
Literally tens of thousands of fatalities are being systematically covered up at Wolfe Island.
The fraudulent mortality information coming out of Wolfe Island is not an aberration. It is deliberate. It is the norm for the wind industry.
It does not matter whether the wind farm is located in Canada or the United States. The reported data are fraudulent. Every single mortality study has been deliberately and systematically contaminated with serious research and methodology flaws – which are then “blessed” and accepted as accurate, to advance pro-wind, anti-hydrocarbon agendas and policies.
In my expert opinion, the 86 Wolf Island turbines are killing over 50,000 birds and bats a year, including many vitally important species. This is more than 250 fatalities per MW, and more than 500 per turbine.
Properly designed and executed studies would show similar numbers – with far more species showing up on the mortality lists, beyond the few listed in the official reports.
This wind industry problem of hiding the slaughter has gone on for years. Worse, it is being aided, abetted and shielded by the very government agencies that have been established and empowered to protect our wildlife – and by mainstream conservation groups that have abandoned their charters and embraced wind industry projects, and wind industry payments.
Ironically, groups like the Audubon Society and Sierra Club not only collect money from members who donate to save our wildlife – they also collect money from an industry whose projects are slaughtering our wildlife. In the meantime, millions upon millions of protected birds and bats, among hundreds of species, are being killed every year by wind turbines.
The participants in this universal fraud can never be expected to come clean, and accountability under the current corrupt system will be very elusive. But thanks to the internet, the information in this article will not be censored by mainstream media. It will resonate across the world.
It is time for responsible people who care about our environment and wildlife to step forward – and demand investigations; prosecutions for fraud, dereliction of duty, and receipt of taxpayer subsidies and other payments made in reliance on false and misleading reports; a suspension of all payments to wind turbine companies, government officials and environmental groups involved in the deception; termination of permits for wind turbines in or near bird and bat habitats; and enforcement of endangered species and migratory bird laws fully and equally against all industries, including industrial wind power.
Jim Wiegand is an independent wildlife expert with decades of field observations and analytical work. He is vice president of the US region of Save the Eagles International, an organization devoted to researching, protecting and preserving avian species threatened by human encroachment, and development.
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