Environmental Groups Disagree On Wind Power Policy
Renewable Energy Articles
A new energy bill highlights competing visions of sustainable development among environmental advocates.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), an industry group that advocates for increased wind power production in the United States opposes the wind power provisions in a newly introduced House of Representatives energy bill. Other environmental groups, such as the National Audubon Society and Bat Conservation International, support the provisions.
The competing environmental interests disagree on the proper policy for dealing with wildlife mortality rates (birds and bats) associated with wind power production. The AWEA advocates for fast track wind energy production, with voluntary compliance for wildlife conservation measures. The Audubon Society and other groups advocate a national mandatory standard for wildlife protection incorporated into all wind energy production plans.
Provisions in the current bill partially support the positions of the wildlife advocate groups. They call for mandatory certification of all wind power projects, with independent research on the potential wildlife impacts of projects incorporated into the certification process.
The AWEA argues that the certification process essentially shuts down wind energy production. In support of their position of industry concern for wildlife, they say,
"The legislative proposal follows on the heels of a May 3 report from the National Academy of Sciences that states, among other things, that "Clearly, bird deaths caused by wind turbines are a minute fraction of . . . total anthropogenic bird deaths - less than 0.003% [three of every 100,000] in 2003." And the wind industry is already helping to fund groundbreaking collaborative research programs on bats and grassland birds to develop a knowledge base that would allow intelligent and effective conservation measures."
One problem with the AWEA position is their selective use of statistics. The National Research Council report clearly questions the validity of those statistics (Chapter 3).
"The committee approaches the answer to the latter question with great hesitancy for four reasons. First, the accuracy and precision of the data available to answer the question are poor."
It should also be noted that the proposed legislation does not completely favor the wildlife groups. For example, some wildlife advocates support the use of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918), which prohibits the killing of migratory birds, as a legal tool for challenging the siting of any wind power project. The treaty gives enforcement power to the Secretary of Interior, and has never been invoked in cases associated with avian mortality and wind power. Lack of treaty enforcement has historical precedence. The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), for example, notes that the treaty has never been enforced to protect migratory birds against timber industry interests.
Environmental groups cite lack of federal enforcement as their reason for supporting the introduction of a citizen suit clause, that would share treaty enforcement powers with concerned citizens. The proposed energy bill does not address this concern.
© 2007. Patricia A. Michaels