- - Monday, August 6, 2012

Clean-energy devotees are proposing that the $22-per-megawatt wind energy production tax credit be extended as part of “all of the above” energy policies. The slogan falls flat, even when it’s expanded to “all of the above and below ground.”

Instead, America needs an “all of the sensible” energy policies. If an energy option makes sense — technically, economically and environmentally — it should be implemented. If it flunks, it should be scrapped.

Industrial wind energy fails every test. It requires perpetual subsidies to survive. By taking tax revenues from productive sectors of the economy to provide expensive, unreliable electricity, it kills two to four jobs for every “green” job it creates.

Big Wind requires vast land and raw materials for turbines, backup power and transmission lines. China’s rare earth metals industry devastates agricultural and wildlife habitat areas and harms human health.

America’s turbines also are sending some of our most important and majestic sovereigns of the sky to the edge of extinction: eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, whooping cranes, condors, herons, egrets, snow geese, insect-eating bats that protect crops, and many more.

They are being chopped out of the air and driven from numerous habitats — and the production tax credit subsidizes the slaughter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other experts estimate that more than 500,000 birds and countless bats are killed annually by turbines. The slaughter “could easily be over 500” golden eagles a year in our western states, says Save the Eagles International biologist Jim Wiegand. Bald eagles are also being butchered. The two species’ body count could soon reach 1,000 per year.

In the 86-square-mile area blanketed by California’s Altamont Pass wind turbines, no eagles have nested for more than 20 years, and golden eagle nest sites have declined by half in surrounding areas, even though both are prime habitats, Mr. Wiegand notes. Wildlife specialist Shawn Smallwood estimates that 2,300 golden eagles have been killed by Altamont turbines in the past 25 years.

The wind industry keeps the publicly acknowledged death toll “acceptable” by having crews search the area around turbines that are not operating; search only within narrow areas near turbines, thus missing birds that were flung farther by the impact or limped off to die elsewhere; search for carcasses only every two to four weeks, allowing scavengers to carry most of them away; exclude disabled or wounded birds and bats from their count; and remove carcasses under “slice, shovel and shut up” guidelines.

These “deliberately flawed” methodologies are compounded by turbine site security that makes independent investigations almost impossible, adds American Bird Conservancy analyst Kelly Fuller. Amazingly, the Fish and Wildlife Service does not require that even the low-ball raw data be made public, and what little does get released is often further filtered, massaged and manipulated.

The federal government has prosecuted and fined oil companies for unintentional bird deaths — $28,000 for 28 common migratory birds in 2011 and $600,000 for 85 birds in five states over five years. It has never prosecuted or penalized a single wind turbine company. Now it is going to greater extremes to exempt them.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to grant “programmatic take” permits that would let turbine operators legally and “inadvertently” injure, maim and kill bald and golden eagles — turning what has been outrageously selective enforcement of species laws into a 007 license to kill. While the new rule is “not specifically designed” for the wind industry, Big Wind will be by far the biggest beneficiary.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says it can do this based on illusory “advanced conservation practices” that are “scientifically supportable” and “represent the best available techniques to reduce eagle disturbance and ongoing mortalities to a level where the remaining take is unavoidable and incidental to otherwise lawful activity.” The service also claims “mitigation” and other “additional” measures may be implemented where necessary to “ensure the preservation” of eagles as a species.

When it wants to restrict development, the Fish and Wildlife Service labels as “imperiled” species, subspecies or “distinct population segments” for sage grouse and other wildlife in a selected location — even when it is abundant nearby. In contrast, the proposed “take” rules strongly suggest that the service might claim the presence of eagles in some faraway parts of the lower 48 states or even Alaska would ensure their preservation, justifying extermination or depletion from habitats due to wind turbines. Attempts to mitigate impacts or establish new bird populations elsewhere will mean imposing extra burdens, restrictions and costs on landowners and users outside of turbine-impact areas.

Whooping cranes also are being “sliced” back to the verge of extinction. Since 2006, turbine capacity within the whooping cranes’ six-state flyway has skyrocketed from 3,600 megawatts to 16,000 megawatts (some 8,000 turbines) — and several hundred tagged and numbered whooping cranes “have turned up missing and are unaccounted for,” says Mr. Wiegand. Incredibly, another 136,700 megawatts of bird Cuisinarts are planned for these six states.

Every vote to extend the production tax credit — or to approve wind turbines in or near important bird habitats and flyways — is a vote for the ultimate extinction of majestic and vital avian species in habitats all over the United States. No member of Congress should want that on his conscience.

Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death” (Merril Press, 2010).

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