Drawbacks to the use of Wind Energy

Harnessing the wind has been one of the smartest and effective uses of pure nature to power man’s endeavors. Whether the wind is harnessed and attached to equipment that grinds grains for the masses or whether the wind is harnessed, compressed, heated, infused with volatile gases and ejected to power the largest aircraft in history, this energy source is one of the greatest hopes for reducing the carbon footprint that is left by over 6.7 billion human beings.

But when we consider a massive increase in the number of wind harnessing apparatuses, there are several problems that are being used by competitors and detractors to discourage too much generating of electricity by wind power.

First, the migrating bird and habitat issues is of great importance because of the enormous height, rotation speed, size and power of the blades that capture the wind and rotate in order to create electrical current. Even a small, single user wind turbine system has to stand at least 40 feet high as a code requirement. The great turbines at Altamont Pass in California created a lot of controversy as that pass is a major and uniquely rich habitat for raptors and their prey.

It is estimated that about a thousand birds annually were killed every year at the Altamont Pass alone, many of them raptors. At one point, the Altamont was believed to be the biggest bird killer of all the wind farms in the world. The killing of about 24 Golden Eagles fueled even more controversy. 

The issue involves bird deaths from collisions with either rotating blades or the related electrical wires. Raptors swoop and dip to the ground to snag their prey. Because the Altamont’s blades reached lower to the ground, they killed raptors that swooped down and collided with them.

Also in the past years, improvements to wire insulation and developing other ways to reduce shock hazards to raptors were implemented. Finally, the turbines at the Altamont pass are shut down on a rotating schedule during the bird migration season.

Another bit of good news is that, while the Altamont Pass was groundbreaking, it is representative of the older turbines that caused more bird deaths. Newer models can produce more power with better designed and fewer turbines per wind farm, which is also greatly reducing actual bird deaths.

Other wildlife issues involve ground habitats that are disturbed by the massive construction process. This temporarily forces wildlife into other areas that are already populated. Once the turbines are up and running, the wildlife obviously returns, or the raptor population would have no reason to hunt there. There are also situations where fires are started by electrical sparks, along with deep ground vibrations and even audible sound waves.

When it comes to land usage and transformation, wind farm turbines take a giant amount of land and they change the visual imagery of the land. Desertification can result from disturbing delicate soil structures, especially in chaparral zones.

The Altamont Pass wind farm turbines are monsters at 60 to 80 feet high. At the time, it took thousands of turbines and about 17 acres of land to produce one megawatt of power. Now, the situation is improving with more efficient power generators that do not require such concentration or space.

In the end, while the Altamont Pass wind farm has generated controversy and created challenges to wildlife and habitat, it has become a much beloved sight for those who travel to and from the Bay Area and it has generated annually about 11 percent of the world’s wind generated power.

This wind farm has served as a model for success in getting off of fossil fuel dependency, for making new wind technology more efficient, and for improving the protections for wildlife and birds. These improvements would not have happened without the unique nature of the Altamont pass habitat, the dedication and effort of the surrounding communities and the State, and the efforts of the engineers who have developed more efficient wind farms that reduce bird and animal deaths.