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Published on August 26th, 2014 | by Joshua S Hill


Coal Found Guilty In Case Of Energy Generation Versus Birds

August 26th, 2014 by  

U.S. News has investigated just how many birds are killed by different energy sources each year, and the figures do not look good for coal utilities.

Over the years that renewable energy has developed into a mainstay of the Western energy grid there have been a number of attempts to derail their development, spread, and innovation. Many times, these attempts at derailment are environmentally based: What was the cost of manufacturing to the environment? What impact are these wind turbines having on weather patterns? Are marine technologies harmful to wildlife?

Possibly the most prevalent opposition raised against renewable technologies such as wind and solar, however, is the impact these projects have on bird-life.

For years, opponents of wind and solar projects have brought before the world cases of massive avian death — wind turbines smacking birds mid-flight, solar panels incinerating birds as they wander into their field of view. The cases have been endless, and often been immediately proven to be overstated at best.

Last week the Associated Press reported that a concentrated solar power plant in the Mojave Desert was under scrutiny after Federal wildlife investigators visited the BrightSource Energy plant and watched as birds — or “streamers” as the employees of the project call the smoking birds as they plummet to the ground — fell to their death one every two minutes.

And while Garry George, renewable-energy director for the California chapter of the Audubon Society is correct that “there needs to be some caution”, understanding just how impactful one energy source is over another in terms of avian-mortality is worth noting.

U.S. News and World Report took it upon themselves to actually look at the numbers of birds killed each year by electricity sources in the United States. And while all numbers reported are going to be open to interpretation and discussion, the final conclusion is going to be difficult to ignore, as you can see from the table below.

bird deaths

Image Credit: U.S. News & World News

U.S. News outlines the specifics of each estimate, and concludes with the same statistic that has been effectively derailing this particular line of argument for decades. No matter how many birds are killed by energy generation technologies each year, they pale into insignificance when compared to the number of birds killed by cats each year — a figure resting somewhere between 1.4 and 3.7 billion.

sylvester tweety

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

  • Craig Allen

    So, let’s solve this. Every generator should pay conservation NGOs and other landholders with ecologically important land to control cats to a degree that saves at least as many birds as the high estimate for the impact of each the generation facilities.

  • spec9

    These over-hype stories are bird deaths are kinda pointless right now anyway . . . concentrated solar power (CSP) is kinda dead at the moment. Solar PV is so much cheaper and easier to do. I think CSP will return but not until we hit the state where we really need more storage . . . CSP does have the advantage that it can do thermal storage and thus operate after the sun has gone down.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I doubt that CSP with storage has much future. Adding storage costs money.

      Unless that storage is much cheaper than other storage methods it won’t swing the balance toward CSP. Thermal storage can cycle only 1x per day. Generic storage can move late night wind to mornings and daytime PV to afternoons. Plus, it can help matching supply/demand fluctuations around the clock.

      • GCO

        Why would thermal storage be limited to 1 cycle/day? Couldn’t it be used to modulate generation throughout the day just as well?

        • Bob_Wallace

          If the turbines weren’t busy producing electricity, yes.

          There might be a role for thermal solar to serve for grid regulation during the day, send most of their acquired heat to storage, and then dump power into the late afternoon/early evening peak.

          I can’t predict and do the math that far in advance. I’m just pointing out how thermal solar might run into problems and sort of expect it will.

  • Jamey Stillings

    Ivanpah is a concentrated solar plant, not a “concentrated solar PV plant.” Mirrors are used to concentrate solar energy, not photo-voltaic panels. The Today Show clearly mixed this up in their segment about the issue, by showing PV plants improperly interspersed with Ivanpah Solar video footage.

    Good article to gain some perspective. Thanks.

  • newpapyrus

    Actually, wind kills at least ten times as many birds as nuclear power plants do.

    Nukes kill more birds than wind?

    • JamesWimberley

      Let’s concede this point. It’s common sense that nuclear power plants can’t kill much wildlife short of a Chernobyl disaster. The abandoned area round the plant has become a de facto wildlife refuge. The animals appear healthy; any mutants would die young.

      • eveee

        Yes. Sure. Mutants die young. Its a benefit. 😉

      • A Real Libertarian

        The abandoned area round the plant has become a de facto wildlife refuge.

        That’s because no hunter is going to cut their way through the exclusion zone’s fence, dodge the military patrols and stalk through the dead forests to bag some radioactive meat.

        • jeffhre

          Actually if you are talking about what a handful of the 320,000,000 or so of us in the US will actually do, using words like no and never, will nearly always make you wrong! Darwin awards?

    • Jamey Stillings

      You might want to look at this study that compares avian mortality per gigawatt hour of electricity production. It refutes your assertion.

      Avian Mortality from Wind Power, Fossil-Fuel, and Nuclear Electricity, by Benjamin K. Sovacool: http://www.evwind.es/2009/09/13/avian-mortality-from-wind-power-fossil-fuel-and-nuclear-electricity-by-benjamin-k-sovacool/1236

      • mwpncookeville

        Funny, the first link directly addresses your link…

        Didn’t bother reading it though, did you…

      • newpapyrus

        I’ve already read it. And Rod Adams soundly refuted Sovacool’s claims. And it should be noted that the core problem with wind is not that it randomly kills birds (lots of things kill birds) but that it disproportionately kills the rarest types of birds: predatory birds.

        But if you want to compare human deaths per KWH. Per trillion KWH, nuclear kills on 90 people, wind: 150, solar rooftop: 440, hydroelectric: 1400, natural gas: 4000, and US coal: 15,000.

        How Deadly Is Your Kilowatt? We Rank The Killer Energy Sources


        • eveee

          Good to see all you defenders of the holy nuclear society come out. How many birds died in Chernobyl? 1.. 2… 3…

          I bet there is a huge correlation between Audobon members and pro nuclear. I can tell by the responses. Not. Since when do nuclear fanboys care about birds?

          Its all about ego and defending the dream, the fantasy,


          But its good to know that all you have to do is reference an article from the non peer reviewed non scientist, Rod Adams, with his sterling reputation for objectivity, to critique a scientific peer reviewed paper.

          And all you have to do to verify the conclusions, is have a poll. Truth is just a contest…ehhhhhhhh.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Perhaps you’d like to update yourself and read Sovacool’s response to Rod and the other pro-nuclear people who misread/misreported what Benjamin wrote?


          And others might wish to read through some of the comments from Rod to get a feeling for who he is.

          • Hans

            I find the comments on Sovacools’s article indeed both sad and amusing. Sovacool is more or less attacked for not being able to provide definitive data, when he is very clear that his data is very preliminary and more meant as a starting point for further research.

      • eveee

        How did I know this conversation would come up? Thanks for the link Jamey.

    • Matt

      Sorry could you please dig deep into the above study and find if not proof then some hard data to drive down the 330k birds that Nukes get in above chart. Or should we just assume that you don’t like their number so ignored the study.

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