The latest issue of Newsweek claims that “a new study suggests” offshore wind farms cause whales to beach themselves. In fact, the authors of the study said their research did not establish such a link, and the UK newspaper that reported the claim pulled the story from its website and issued a correction.
Newsweek Claims “New Study” Shows Wind Farms Cause Beaked Whales To Beach
Newsweek Claims Wind Turbines Are Responsible For Beached Whales, Thousands Of Bird Deaths. From a Newsweek article that asks “Is There Any Safe Energy?”:
For producing clean, renewable energy, wind farming has many proponents. Animals aren't among them. A new study suggests that beaked whales--the size of a rhino and the weight of a bus--are confused by the presence of wind farms at sea, leading them to beach. Birds too find wind farms to be killers. The wind turbines in California's Diablo Mountains chop up thousands of birds a year, including golden eagles and red-tailed hawks. [Newsweek, 3/20/11]
The print edition of the article included an image of a beached whale lying behind a wind turbine:
Authors Of Study: “Erroneous” To Say Our Research Showed Link Between Wind Farms And Beachings
UK Paper Issued Correction After Reporting That Study Showed Wind Farms Kill Whales. The UK newspaper Daily Telegraph issued a correction after reporting on March 15 that scientists at the University of St Andrews found that “offshore wind farms are one of the main reasons why whales become stranded on beaches.” From the original article:
OFFSHORE wind farms are one of the main reasons why whales become stranded on beaches, according to scientists studying the problem.
The ground-breaking study confirmed the claims of environmentalists that sonar from submarines disturbs the navigation of whales. But it suggested that offshore wind farms, as well as oil rigs, and even passing ships, posed an even greater threat.
Scientists at the University of St Andrews studying beaked whales, a species that frequently becomes beached in Britain, concluded that they were extraordinarily timid creatures that were scared “by virtually anything unusual”, despite being the size of a rhinoceros and weighing the same as a London bus.
The findings suggest that a greater number of strandings can be expected because ministers are planning a major expansion in the number of offshore wind farms, especially off the coast of Scotland - an area where whales congregate to feed. [The Daily Telegraph, 3/15/11, via Nexis]
- Telegraph Correction: Co-Author Of Study Said There Is No Known Link Between Beachings and Wind Farms. From the correction issued by the Telegraph on March 17:
Scientists studying why whales strand themselves said there was no known direct link between beachings and offshore wind farms.
Prof Ian Boyd, of the University of St Andrews, said construction of offshore energy sites was likely to cause some species to move away and to disturb their feeding and reproductive cycles.
Prof Boyd wished to correct a report in this paper this week that said there was a proven link between offshore wind farms and strandings of the mammals.
He said a quote attributed to him in a press release issued by the university, which discussed strandings related to sonar emissions from naval vessels and which suggested wind farm construction may also contribute to the disturbance of whales, had been taken out of context. [The Daily Telegraph, 3/17/11]
Study Co-Author: “To Suggest That Our Results Indicate Marine Mammals Are Stranded By Windfarms Is Just Erroneous And Bad Reporting.” In an email to Media Matters, Brandon Southall, research associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz and co-author of the study cited by the Telegraph criticized reports that his work showed a connection between whale strandings and wind farms, calling the reports “totally unsubstantiated.” Southall further stated:
No one is saying that there won't be any potential disturbance from the installation or operation of wind farms - I personally think that is likely as well at least in terms of temporary responses during construction - and these are going in over large areas, particularly in the North Sea. But to suggest that our results indicate marine mammals are stranded by windfarms is just erroneous and bad reporting. [Email to Media Matters, 4/4/11]
Wind Turbines Account For Very Small Percentage Of Total Bird Deaths
National Academy Of Sciences: “Bird Deaths Caused By Wind Turbines Are A Minute Fraction Of The Total Anthropogenic Bird Deaths.” According to a 2007 book published by the National Research Council of the National Academies titled “Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects”:
Having said the above, we provide here estimates summarized by Erickson et al. (2005) and estimates reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS 2002a). Those sources emphasize the uncertainty in the estimates, but the numbers are so large that they are not obscured even by the uncertainty. Collisions with buildings kill 97 to 976 million birds annually; collisions with high-tension lines kill at least 130 million birds, perhaps more than 1 billion; collisions with communications towers kill between 4 and 5 million based on “conservative estimates,” but could be as high as 50 million; cars may kill 80 million birds per year; and collisions with wind turbines killed an estimated 20,000 to 37,000 birds per year in 2003, with all but 9,200 of those deaths occurring in California. Toxic chemicals, including pesticides, kill more than 72 million birds each year, while domestic cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other species each year. Erickson et al. (2005) estimate that total cumulative bird mortality in the United States “may easily approach 1 billion birds per year.”
Clearly, bird deaths caused by wind turbines are a minute fraction of the total anthropogenic bird deaths--less than 0.003% in 2003 based on the estimates of Erickson et al. (2005). [The National Academies Press, “Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects”, 2007]
Forest Service Report: 550 Million Birds Killed By Buildings Each Year. The Associated Press reported on February 8:
A 2005 Forest Service report estimated that 500 million to possibly more than 1 billion birds are killed in the U.S. every year in collisions with manmade structures such as vehicles, buildings, power lines, telecommunication towers and wind turbines. The report estimated that 550 million are killed by buildings and 130 million by power lines, while only 28,000 are killed by wind turbines; a 2009 report by Fish and Wildlife scientist put the figure at 440,000 annual bird deaths by wind turbines. [Associated Press, 2/8/11]
Study: Coal, Oil “Pose Potentially Higher Risks To Wildlife Than Renewable Electricity Generation Sources.” According to a report by the Environmental Bioindicators Foundation and Pandion Systems, bird mortality from wind turbine collisions “is likely to occur with no population-level effects and a high degree of species recovery.” Further, the report concludes that non-renewable sources of energy pose a greater threat to wildlife than renewable sources, such as wind. From the report:
Based on the comparative amounts of SO2, NOx, CO2, and Hg emissions generated from coal, oil, natural gas, and hydro, and the associated effects of acidic deposition, climate change, and mercury bioaccumulation, coal as an electricity generation source is by far the largest contributor to these risks to wildlife in the NY/NE region.
Overall, non-renewable electricity generation sources, such as coal and oil, pose potentially higher risks to wildlife than renewable electricity generation sources, such as hydro and wind. [Pandion Systems, March 2009]
California Wind-Power Company Replacing Outdated Turbines To Reduce Bird Mortality. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that NextEra Resources, a company that owns thousands of wind turbines in California's Altamont Pass, will replace or stop operating 2,400 turbines as part of an effort to reduce bird mortality:
The largest wind-power company in the Altamont Pass will replace thousands of turbines as part of a settlement with lawmakers and environmental groups hoping to reduce the number of golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and other birds killed each year by the whirring blades.
NextEra Energy Resources, which operates about half of the 5,000 or so wind towers at the sprawling site straddling the Alameda-Contra Costa county line, will either swap 2,400 wind towers - some are 1980s vintage - for fewer, more advanced turbines or will stop operating the older turbines by late 2015. The company will also pay $2.5 million for raptor habitat restoration in the area.
While there has been tremendous disagreement about the number of bird fatalities, recent research by Shawn Smallwood, a Sacramento biologist who studies the Altamont site, suggests that about 9,300 birds are killed annually, including more than 2,200 raptors.
As part of an earlier settlement, the wind-energy firms had agreed to cut bird mortality by 50 percent. And while the companies shut down the turbines each winter to accommodate the millions of birds that migrate along the Pacific flyway, environmental groups complained that little headway was made.
With Monday's agreement, all sides are confident bird deaths will decline substantially, though they put little emphasis on achieving the 50 percent reduction figure. Instead, the pact focused on replacing the outdated turbines, which many experts say were too close to the ground and too close together. [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/7/10]
Newsweek Forwards Claim That Wind Power Hasn't Reduced Carbon Emissions
From the Newsweek article:
Critics point out that wind power hasn't lowered carbon-dioxide emissions in countries where farms are prevalent. [Newsweek, 3/20/11]
Wind Power Linked To Decrease In Carbon Emissions
EIA: 5.1 Percent Reduction In Carbon Intensity In 2009 Due In Part To An Increase In Wind Generation. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's report on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2009:
Carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. electric power generation declined by 9.0 percent in 2009 (Table 12). The drop resulted from a 4.1-percent decrease in the sector's total electricity generation and a 5.1-percent reduction in the carbon intensity of the electricity supply. The lower overall carbon intensity of power generation in 2009 was, in part, the result of a 33.5-percent increase (19 billion kilowatthours) in generation from wind resources. Although there was a slight drop in generation from nuclear power plants, hydroelectric generation increased by 7.3 percent, and total generation from all the energy sources that produce no direct carbon dioxide emissions increased by 2.7 percent from 2008. [EIA.gov, March 2011]
DOE: Increasing Wind Power Output To 20 Percent Of U.S. Electricity Production Would Reduce Carbon Emissions By 4 Billion Metric Tons By 2050. According to 2008 report by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy on the potential for increasing wind energy production to 20% of the U.S.'s total energy output:
Comparing the 20% Wind Scenario with the No New Wind Scenario provides one way of estimating the potential carbon emissions reductions that could be attributed to wind energy. This scenario assumes that the conventional generation mix is allowed to expand while optimizing total costs without any carbon regulation policy. Figure A-8 illustrates the cumulative carbon emissions reduction of more than 2,100 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE) attributed to producing 20% of the nation's electricity from wind during the significant wind energy expansion period, 2005 to 2030. Extrapolating cumulative carbon emissions avoidance over the 20-year wind plant life through 2050 results in avoided emissions of more than 4,000 MMTCE, and avoided carbon emission in 2030 alone of 225 MMTCE.
[DOE.gov, July 2008]
ERCOT: “Development Of Wind Generation” In Texas “Is Likely To Reduce Overall Carbon Dioxide Emissions.” According to a report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas:
The development of wind generation in the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) is likely to reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions in ERCOT, as wind generation replaces thermal generation resources. “Base Wind” scenarios included in this study indicate the impact of currently existing wind resources (including wind resources for which there is a signed contract for interconnection). CREZ wind scenarios include the amount of wind expected as part of the development of transmission improvements to serve the CREZ, as ordered by the Public Utility Commission of Texas in Docket 33672.
Modeling conducted as part of this study indicates that the additional CREZ wind is expected to result in an annual reduction of carbon dioxide emissions of 17.6 million tons in the case with no carbon dioxide allowance costs. The following chart shows that this expected reduction is generally consistent across the levels of carbon dioxide emission allowance prices evaluated.
PJM Interconnection: Increasing Wind Capacity Would Reduce Carbon Emissions By Millions Of Tons. According to analysis by regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection:
With respect to emissions levels, the introduction of 15,000 MW of wind capacity provides an additional 34 million to 37 million tons of CO2 reductions. The mechanism by which wind achieves additional emissions reductions is identical to demand reductions in that wind displaces fossil fuel generation resources. However, unlike demand reductions which resulted in displacing almost equal amounts of coal and combined cycle gas generation, wind displaces predominantly coal.
[PJM Interconnection, 1/23/09, in-text citations deleted for clarity]