Tag Archives: wind energy

Wind turbine kills golden eagle — the first in Washington state

The first known eagle casualty from a wind turbine in Washington state has been recorded.

The bird was a golden eagle that died April 27 in a collision with the blades of a turbine at the Goodnoe Hills Wind Project southeast of Goldendale, according to Vancouver Columbian reporter Kathie Durbin, whose story appeared yesterday.

My first reaction to this incident was that an eagle death was bound to happen sooner or later. And those in charge seemed to be responding appropriately. Durbin quoted Travis Nelson, the state’s lead wildlife biologist on wind power issues:

“This is certainly not the outcome that anyone who was involved in planning and permitting this operation would have wanted, especially the project owner. We have convened a small review group internally to discuss how we can avoid this in the future.”

But then I read down to the end of the story, where Shawn Smallwood, an independent wildlife ecologist, said another project in Klickitat County — the two-year-old Big Horn Wind Energy Project — may have killed 243 raptors in its first year. That compares to the 33 raptors that a consultant predicted would be killed each year. (The birds were not identified by species.)

While those of us who live on the west side of the Cascades are enjoying the benefits of wind power from Eastern Washington, I guess we need to pay attention to the environmental costs of our choices.

While scenic vistas are a key issue in the battle over the Whistling Ridge Energy Project in the Columbia River Gorge, environmental groups also are raising concerns about wildlife damage. Check out “Talking Points” on the Web site of Friends of Columbia River Gorge.

I’m not an alarmist, but we should never kid ourselves about the full costs of power projects. Because wind power is competitive in price to other power sources, we are likely to see more turbines — including plans for the Pacific Coast. While the impact on birds is an old subject (see Federal Wind Siting Information Center), we need to keep an eye on this topic.

Obama administration juggles offshore energy issues

The battle over offshore oil drilling is resting on the back burner, but sooner or later the Obama administration will be forced to decide if the value of more domestic petroleum supplies outweighs the risks to the environment.

When oil prices reached astronomical levels during the heat of the presidential campaign, Obama said he could support offshore drilling under the right circumstances.

Since his election, environmental groups have been pressuring the president and Congress to restore the previous ban on offshore drilling, whereas oil companies have been pushing to get new leases in place.

The administration has not said what direction it will take, but it has allowed leases to move forward in the Gulf of Mexico, where deeper wells have been increasing available reserves.

See Jad Mouawad’s excellent summary of the current state of the issue in The New York Times.

As for the East and West coasts, the administration appears to be in no rush to decide what to do. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced in February that he would slow down the rush to develop offshore reserves to allow more time for study. See Interior press release.

The president has asked Interior’s Mineral Management Service and U.S. Geological Survey to produce a report on supplies by the end of March. Four meetings are scheduled to discuss the report and gather opinions about the future of drilling.

The meetings will be held in Atlantic City, N.J., on April 6; New Orleans on April 8; Anchorage, Alaska, on April 14; and in San Francisco on April 16.

But oil is not the only kind of energy being considered for offshore development. On Tuesday, Salazar issued a joint statement with Jon Wellinghoff, acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to guide development of renewable energy supplies from offshore areas.

In a press release, Salazar said: “Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress. I am proud that we have reached an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding our respective roles in approving offshore renewable energy projects. This agreement will help sweep aside red tape so that our country can capture the great power of wave, tidal, wind and solar power off our coasts.”

In general, the Interior Department is expected to focus on wind and solar projects, while FERC manages projects that use wave and tidal energy.

The move was prompted by what a New York Times headline writer calls “surf wars,” in which competing companies claim the same stretches of ocean for energy development. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operates under a kind of first-come approach to a specific area while the Interior Department focuses on issuing leases. See story by NY Times reporter Evan Lehmann.

It appears that the recession has bought Obama a little time to deal with the energy crisis, but some people’s hopes may be a bit high if they think he can strike a perfect balance that addresses supply shortages, high prices and greenhouse gas emissions.

Will coastal oil drilling take a back seat to wind?

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar will not advance plans for offshore oil drilling, saying he will promote “a new way forward,” according to an Associated Press story by reporter H. Josef Hebert.

In a press conference today, Salazar criticized the “midnight timetable” for new oil and gas development on the outer continental shelf of the U.S. He said the Bush administration failed to consider the views of states and coastal communities.

Salazar has directed scientists in his agency to produce new reports about oil and gas supplies off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. He also extended the public comment period until September and says he will hold meetings in the regions where drilling is likely.

Any offshore energy plans should consider renewables, such as wind, he said.

Needless to say, environmentalists were pleased.

Richard Charter of Defenders of Wildlife (PDF 92 kb):

“We will provide comments to the Department explaining that the Bush administration’s plan was the worst five-year offshore drilling plan we’ve ever seen and should be permanently shelved, not just delayed for 180 days.”

House Republicans, in a letter last week to President Obama (PDF 476 kb), voiced their displeasure over the prospect of holding up or canceling plans for offshore drilling:

“As you know, at the height of our nation’s energy crisis last year, the American people spoke with one voice to express their outrage when they saw that not only were we dependent upon foreign oil, but furthermore, that energy resources located within American territory were locked away and could not be developed. Our national vulnerability was on plain display for the American public last summer because we lacked a coherent energy policy to allow for responsible energy exploration and development.”

So does anybody think Salazar’s stance will not be the end of offshore drilling, at least for California and states that have oil but are opposed to drilling?

If you recall, oil industry folks I talked to last summer told me that Washington state would be one of the last places they would drill.

Should Gore lead the charge for clean energy?

Is former vice president Al Gore too controversial to carry the torch for the clean-energy movement?

Let’s be right up front about this. While Gore is a hero to many environmentalists, he is a toxic figure to many people of the conservative persuasion.

Last week, Gore received a lot of attention when he proposed a crash program to shift from carbon-based fuels to renewable supplies, such as solar and wind. (See Associated Press story by Dina Cappiello.) I was surprised that Gore said nothing about what has gone on before with the help of U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, and his New Apollo Energy Project and others involved in the Apollo Alliance.

Yes, Gore has managed to raise the profile on this issue like nobody before him. But as Michael Gerson says in an opinion column in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun:

Some Republicans and conservatives are prone to an ideologically motivated skepticism. On AM talk radio, where scientific standards are not particularly high, the attitude seems to be: “If Al Gore is upset about carbon, we must need more of it.” Gore’s partisan, conspiratorial anger is annoying, yet not particularly relevant to the science of this issue.

This points, however, to a broader problem. Any legislation ambitious enough to cut carbon emissions significantly and encourage new energy technologies will require a broad political and social consensus. Nothing this complex and expensive gets done on a party-line vote.

Yet many environmental leaders seem unpracticed at coalition building. They tend to be conventionally, if not radically, liberal. They sometimes express a deep distrust for capitalism and hostility to the extractive industries. Their political strategy consists mainly of the election of Democrats. Most Republican environmental efforts are quickly pronounced “too little, too late.”

Gore is well known for his concerns about climate change, which he revealed in his book and later the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Now, he has hitched his ambitions to a crash program of energy conversion, something that Inslee has written about in his own book, “Apollo’s Fire.”

In interviews I’ve seen and heard, Gore gives barely a nod to legislation that others have been pushing. He exhibits more than his usual arrogance in acting like this was his idea alone.

Now, T. Boone Pickens, the multi-billionaire oil man, is muscling in with his own clean-energy initiative, including a potential $53 million ad campaign to promote wind energy and break America from its oil addiction.

Maybe all sides of the energy issue should come together and decide what can be reasonably accomplished with a bipartisan effort. While Al Gore could bring something to the table, I’m not sure whether everyone would welcome him there. And the notion that he should become some kind of “energy czar” for the country might just turn the table upside down.

Hear Gore in his own words on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”