15 May 2015
Submission to the Australian Senate – updated version
WIND TURBINES SELECT COMMITTEE
Canberra ACT 2600
Impact of wind turbines on bird and bat populations
Distinguished Senators of the Commonwealth of Australia,
Australian members of our organisation have complained to us that mortality predictions being used in Australia to assess the impacts of wind turbines on birds and bats are minimized to a level that thoroughly misleads decision makers. To wit, in a widely used report prepared for the Australian Government by consultant Biosis Research Pty Ltd, we read: “the additional mortality predicted for the cumulative effects of turbine collisions for wind farms within the range of the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle (TWTE) is likely to result in the additional death of approximately one bird per annum” (1). Yet, actual eagle mortality at just one of the 7 wind farms considered by the study turned out to be 3.2 eagles per year, according to the operator of the Woolnorth wind farm (2). Dr. Stephen Debus puts the number at 5 TWTE per year (3). As the 6 other wind farms have not been monitored, “there might be tens of eagle deaths per year in Tasmania” (from blade strikes), adds Dr. Debus. Of these, the vast majority concerns the TWTE: at the Woolnorth wind farm, from 20 eagles killed in 4 years, 17 were TWTEs and 3 were white-bellied sea eagles (2).
The Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, a (bigger) sub-species of the Wedge-tailed Eagle, numbered only 130 successful breeding pairs in 2010 according to the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service (2) – and obviously less now, as the killings are allowed to continue. It is classified as “endangered”. The result of the misleading assessment of Biosis will be to condemn to extinction the largest of Australia’s eagles.
I analysed the Biosis TWTE study in 2010, and found disturbing “errors” in it, huge ones at that, totalling two orders of magnitude. So I wrote an open letter to the authors (4). They failed to reply. Australian ornithologists, which had been copied on it, also kept silent. The letter generated record levels of traffic on the Iberica 2000 website that had published it, but nobody responded, no one. Apparently, nobody wanted to hear the bad news, let alone acknowledge them, especially ornithologists, bird societies, and even the media, enthralled as they all are by the “goodness” of wind turbines. In fact, I realized that everyone had an interest in continuing business as usual. And business as usual it has been, in the five years that followed to this date. As we speak, mendacious mortality predictions from eager-to-please consultants continue to be used to promote wind farms across your great country.
The Tasmanian situation was resolved by making sure that no more news of eagles killed by wind farms on the island would be published by the media. This cover-up is now 5 years old, and has been quite effective: no news of eagle mortality has transpired from Woolnorth or any other Tasmanian wind farm.
I shall come back to the matter of unethical consultants and bird societies later, but I would like to cite another example briefly, to make my point. It’s about the Macarthur wind farm, in Victoria. Before the project was built, consultants had estimated that the level of bird activity was low in the area, and that the impact on birds would be insignificant. But after construction, a monitoring survey counted the carcasses and estimated the death toll at about 1500 birds in one year, including nearly 500 raptors – among which 6 wedge-tailed eagles) (5). So much for the negligible bird mortality…
This scenario is repeating itself at wind farms all over the world, wherever post-construction monitoring surveys are performed. My experience has been that predicted rates of mortality are often two orders of magnitude (100 times) lower than reality. The monitoring surveys themselves play their part, by never reflecting the full extent of the death toll (for technical reasons – e.g. the insufficient size of the area searched under each turbine * – as well as conflicts of interest).
* search area: a 50-meter-radius circle around each mast, whereas a 150-meter-tall wind turbine can project the body of a small bird 200 meters away and beyond).
MANIPULATED MORTALITY STATISTICS
It is my duty, as President of the World Council for Nature, to bring to your attention the true extent of the carnage which is taking place at wind farms around the world, including Australia. The deception being staged by consultants in order to fool people and their governments will have unfathomed consequences for wildlife, biodiversity, natural habitats, and the health of forests and agriculture. We are facing widespread corrupt behavior, which is putting private interests ahead of the common good.
In Australia, but also elsewhere, consultants mislead decision-makers by predicting insignificant mortality. We have seen the case of the Macarthur wind farm. In Europe it is much the same, e.g. in France the official mortality estimate is about one bird/turbine/year (6). Here again, consultants willing to please the wind industry, their main employer, are the source of the deception.
In the US, the latest nationwide windfarm mortality estimates are Dr. Smallwood’s 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats per year, i.e. almost 15 birds and 23 bats per turbine (7). But there are also European estimates of interest: for instance, extrapolating to Germany the findings of reknowned Dutch biologist J.E. Winkelman, ornithologist Bernd Koop had calculated that annual mortality would be 60,000 – 100,000 birds per Gigawatt of installed wind capacity (8). For today’s Germany, which has 39 Gigawatts, this would add up to 2,340,000 – 3,900,000 dead birds a year.