Large North Dakota Wind Farm Falls to the Birds

Wind power's impact on wildlife has long been a sticking point when it comes to the renewable resource's development. Ever since the Altamont, California turbines went up in the late 1970s, bird kills have been highlighted as the best reason to show some restraint on massive wind farms. Nothing has changed today: most recently, Minnesota-based utility Xcel Energy canceled a contract to build a 150-megawatt wind farm because of concerns over bird impacts.

The wind farm, which was to be built in southeastern North Dakota by enXco Development Corp., would have cost about $400 million and was scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. But two endangered species have scuttled the plan: the whooping crane and the piping plover. Xcel would have had to spend time and money attempting to mitigate any threats to the birds, and apparently those requirements made the project too uncertain to move forward.

Bird groups and some other environmentalists have focused heavily on the wind turbine impacts; a recent American Bird Conservancy video showed a vulture being struck by a turbine, and there are reportedly hundreds of thousands of bird fatalities each year due to wind power. As Andy Revkin points out at Dot Earth, though, this is actually a fairly low number compared to other manmade structures. If buildings kill hundreds of millions of birds every year, stopping short on wind power entirely because of such concerns might be the wrong move.

Still, Xcel's move to protect two species that are down to only a few individuals in certain areas is commendable. Proper siting and configuration of wind farms can obviously help with this issue as well; the Altamont turbines were small and situated extremely close together. Doing things carefully, in this case, will be better than not doing them at all.

(Image via Dirk Ingo Franke)

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