Does it matter how an energy company kills a bird?

Wind farms are touted as green power and receive government subsidies. But even Senator Ted Kennedy opposed them in his backyard (Nantucket Sound).

A question presents itself: Does it matter how an energy company kills a bird?

Robert Bryce writing in the Wall Street Journal says there is a double standard. There has not been a single prosecution of a wind energy company for bird kills:

On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.

ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.

Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.

…Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year. Yet the Justice Department is not bringing cases against wind companies. “Somebody has given the wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Mr. Fry told me. “If there were even one prosecution,” he added, the wind industry would be forced to take the issue seriously.

Mr. Lee tells me that solving the problem in the oil fields “was easy and cheap.” The oil companies only had to put netting over their tanks and waste facilities. Why aren’t wind companies prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds? “The fix here is not easy or cheap,” Mr. Lee told me.

Economic reasoning suggests the cheap and easy ways of saving birds should be done first, meaning wind energy companies should be able to buy bird kill credits from oil companies much like other pollution credits are traded. But could it be that the public’s sympathy is stronger for oil soaked birds, than for birds hit by turbines?

And what of bat kills? Bats are killed not by being hit by blades, but because they are drawn to them and the drop in pressure near the blades causes barotrauma, explosion of the blood vessels of the lungs.

In a just-released online version of the classic game Monopoly, Google and Hasbro treat wind farms as the neighborhood equivalent of rubbish dumps. Ouch.

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