A very detailed and complex study (pdf) Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to the US Electricity Supply weighing the costs and benefits of increasing wind power to 20% by 2030 included some very interesting projections on bird extinction numbers expected from climate change.
While it may not be news to cleantechnica readers that climate change will kill more members of more species than wind turbines, it is interesting to see the actual figures comparing bird loss from climate change versus from wind turbines.
The study found at least 950 entire species of terrestrial birds that will be threatened with extinction as a result of climate change under several scenarios, even at the lower estimate of temperature gains, just counting species of non-sea birds in the higher latitudes; outside the tropics.
Species of birds inside the tropics will additionally decline from continued deforestation, which in turn, further exacerbates global climate change and results in land conversion, which further threatens habitat more directly. The combined total would be 1,800 species lost. (Jetz, Wilcove, and Dobson 2007).
A study from the National Research Council last year tallied bird kills from total anthropogenic bird deaths, and found collisions with wind turbines comprised a minute fraction of human interaction bird deaths. Only 3 out of 100,000 anthropogenic bird deaths were from turbines. Cats and buildings had a far higher kill rate.
Nevertheless, The Heartland Institute, a well known climate change denier group, puts out regular bulletins keeping the idea alive that wind farms are bird killing machines. Their claim that Altamont Pass kills 4,700 birds a year is wildly at odds with both the original NREL counts (pg 22) and the Defenders of Wildlife count of 96 tallied at the now obsolete small turbines built in the 70’s, the worlds oldest and deadliest wind farm.
However, even the if we go with the Exxon-funded group’s figure; the death of individual birds is quite different from the extinction of entire species of birds.
In the meantime we generate over 2 billion metric tons annually from fossil fueled electricity.
As for the new objection that building wind turbines generates CO2, the study found:
“Manufacturing wind turbines and building wind plants together generate only minimal amounts of CO2 emissions. One university study that examined the issue (White and Kulsinski 1998) found that when these emissions are analyzed on a life-cycle basis, wind energy’s CO2 emissions are extremely low—about 1% of those from coal, or 2% of those from natural gas, per unit of electricity generated.”