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July 7, 2011 / philosophermouseofthehedge

Wind turbines. Enchantment or disillusionment?

Winds of hope or killing machines? Choose the environment or the balance of nature? Save the planet or save the endangered protected golden eagles and a small valuable fish.  More a nightmare than California dreaming.

California and the West Coast, leading the charge to save the environment and create green energy, now face a growing dilemma concerning wind turbines and wind farms.

First, wind and wind.  As reported in June, wildlife experts are reporting that wind power turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area are killing protected golden eagles.  This wind farm, operating since 1980’s, is unfortunately  located an area that is the highest nesting areas in the U.S.  Operators say they are replacing older turbines with newer models that are designed to be less hazardous to birds, and are supposedly turning off certain turbines during peak migration season. But too many birds are still getting hacked up. The ravenous hunting eagles, narrowly focused on prey below them, are not seeing the whirling blades as they swoop and dive. Whack. If lucky, the eagle only loses dinner or some feathers, or ends up walking the rest of its life. But too many end up fatally injured. The golden eagles should feel very cherished and protected by  3 acts:  the  Migratory Bird Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act or the Federal Endangered Species Act. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, each year about 440,000 birds are killed by turbines at wind farms across the country. Odd how no wind energy company has been prosecuted concerning the deaths. One source says an officer has to actually see the bird flying into the turbine and getting sliced up in order to prosecute. There are reports of eagle carcasses being hidden by employees. (Which is illegal) Oh, yeah, this is a major energy provider. And we all want safe, green energy, right? No matter the cost? And besides, birds probably also die from flying into tall buildings and other tall things that stick up in the sky….and those big fat domestic cats probably get a few, too.

From one Feng Shui element to another:  wind and water. (That California surfer girl enough for you?) Basically this controversy involves operators of the hydro-electric generators telling the wind turbine operators to shut down their generators for several hours each day (usually at night when power demands are lower). There’s just too much electricity – and the grid can’t take any more! Although the Columbia Gorge River wind turbines are located in eastern Washington state and Oregon, the final destination for half of the turbine generated electricity is the customers of Southern California Edison. Wind and hydro electricity are both “green energy”. There’s aways a good partnership between the two types of energy producers in this area for a reason.  Hydro electricity can be quickly be ramped up or scaled back by opening dam spillways on days when wind isn’t predictable or constant enough to insure a steady flow of power to the grid. Such close cooperation has made this current feud even more bitter.

Elliot Mainzer, an Exec. VP at Bonneville Power Administration (federal power marketing authority that operates the Columbia River hydropower dams) says, “We’ve now got a situations where we’re protecting our customers and we’re protecting fish, but obviously the wind community is very upset about it.”  Livid is probably more like it.  Since the “turn them off” order in mid May, the wind energy providers say they have lost about 15% of what the wind farms normally would have produced costing them millions of dollars in broken contracts and lost tax and energy credits. So, they are really concerned about money here. Bonneville says it’s not about  power over power, but about protecting a valuable resource of the Northwest: the treasured endangered salmon fingerlings that are trying to make the perilous trip down the Columbia River to the sea this spring. This year, the river is flowing much too high and too fast due to heavy rains and the beginning of heavy snowfall melt. If the hydro plants slow the generators, dumping more water over the dam, it will harm the small fish.  Too much water going over the dams too fast create dangerous concentrations of dissolved gases(nitrogen, for one). The young fish get gas bubbles under their scales.  Some experts say the  “gas bubble trauma” make fish more vulnerable to disease and sort of gives them the “bends” like human divers can get. So to limit the flow through the spillways, the water has to go through the electricity turbines which produces electricity. At least one expert with the Oregon Department of Fish and WIldlife says the rate and flow of water over the dam shouldn’t be an issue as, well, the fish just get across the dam quicker – “even if temporarily traumatized”. So the accusations are flying back and forth – along with possible solutions. Rob Gramlich, Senior V.P. of the American Wind Energy Association says, ” This is not about fish, and it’s not about reliability; it’s just about economics.” Depends on who you want to believe.

And statements like that by Gramlich seem a bit ironical. People are urged to use green energy (ignore the cost!) to save the planet . Who doesn’t want to save the planet?  California residents especially want to preserve the environment – ask any of them. Except when it interferes with company profits and company interests? What about nature? Oh, it’s just a few birds and the fish are really little and would probably be eaten by bears anyway. Only the wants and desires of humans, the top of the food chain, matter?  Is it really about the environment or about money, tax credits, carbon credits, and company profits – despite the costs or possible irreparable harm to fragile balanced interrelationships of the eco systems? That sounds so, well, like what they say about big oil companies. How odd this comes from the West Coast. Is the mask slipping off? (Don’t look behind that curtain!)

Seriously, what would John Muir say about the wind turbines mess? Killing machines or necessary energy angels? “The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual.”  (John Muir, letter to J.B. McChesney, 19 September 1871).  Venture a guess?

Seriously musing, Mr. Muir,

Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge

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