United States

United States

Wind's wildlife challenge

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When a thoroughly green technology like wind power attracts the wrath of respected wildlife and environmental groups, the wind industry has a problem. It is one thing to be attacked by suspect "animal rights groups" masquerading as environmentalists, or by people who plain object to wind power using

spurious environmental arguments to whip up opposition. But it is quite another when professional scientists feel they have to launch a law suit to prevent kills of protected birds in wind farms in California's Altamont Pass (page 30), or when a federal wildlife agency fears the industry is failing to respond adequately to the deaths of hundreds of bats by wind turbines (Windpower Monthly, October 2003). It is even more concerning when the same federal agency is of the opinion that the industry provided little input into its preparation of siting guidelines for wind plant -- especially when the industry then slams the agency's guidelines for being "out of touch" and "in need of a reality check" (page 29).

Our news pages this month reveal that wildlife issues for wind power in America are boiling to the surface and demanding attention -- reverberations from American bat kills are even being felt in Portugal (page 66). As the eco-friendly answer to fossil fuel, it is quite natural that higher environmental standards are expected of wind than of its competitors. Crying "it's not fair" and pointing to the tons of pollution from fossil fuel plant, or arguing that the notoriously uncooperative communications tower industry kills an estimated 40 million birds yearly, is not a strategy for defence that will successfully turn down the heat.

The American Wind Energy Association is showing every sign that it knows that another line of action is required. Lessons of the past, whether in Europe, America or more recently in Australia, have taught industry members that close engagement with environmentalists, the sharing of knowledge and building of mutual respect, and the formation of a foundation of trust are what is needed. From that will emerge a willingness on both sides to find and adopt solutions that work. A forum on the bat kills issue in Florida last month, where experts representing both sides sat down and faced one another, admirably demonstrated the success of the approach.

Living well with wildlife is expensive. But the investment will be well worth while to retain the support of mainstream environmental groups: to prevent the Sierra Club repeating its withdrawal from a pro-wind rally, as it did recently in Boston, and to reassure the World Wildlife Fund that it was not duped when it lent its support to a wind farm in which hundreds of bats were killed.

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