Why Coal and Nuclear Plants Kill Far More Birds than Wind Power

May 20, 2013


Figure 2. Avian deaths per year in the United States from various energy and non-energy
sources, 2009. Note: When a range of estimates has been given, the figure presents only data
for the lowest end of that range.

Among the big lies that windbaggers like to spread about wind energy, there are 2 that come up a lot.

One is that wind turbines kill a lot of birds, relative to other human activities.

The other is that windbaggers give a damn about birds.

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority:

There are many ways to classify the impacts of electricity generation on wildlife. Effects can be direct and/or indirect; acute or chronic; individual or cumulative; and local, regional, or global. Each type of effect was explored in this study. Acidic deposition, climate change, and mercury bioaccumulation are identified as the three most significant and widespread stressors to wildlife from electricity generation from fossil fuels combustion in the NY/NE region.

Risks to wildlife vary substantially by life cycle stage. Higher risks are generally associated with the resource extraction and power generation stages, as compared to other life cycle stages. Overall, non-renewable electricity generation sources, such as coal and oil, pose higher risks to wildlife than renewable electricity generation sources, such as hydro and wind. Based on the comparative amounts of SO2, NOx, CO2, and mercury emissions generated from coal, oil, natural gas, and hydro and the associated effects of acidic deposition, climate change, and mercury bioaccumulation, coal as an electricity generation source is by far the largest contributor to risks to wildlife found in the NY/NE region.

Journal of Integrative Environmental Studies:

..wind farms are responsible for roughly 0.27 avian fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while nuclear power plants involve 0.6 fatalities per GWh and fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 9.4 fatalities per GWh. Within the uncertainties of the data used, the estimate means that wind farm-related avian fatalities equated to approximately 46,000 birds in the United States in 2009, but nuclear power plants killed about 460,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 24 million.

To recap, about 46,000 avian mortalities were associated with wind farms across the United States in 2009 but nuclear plants killed about 458,000 and fossil-fueled power plants almost 24 million, estimates illustrated by Figure 2. Figure 2 also reveals how the number of absolute birds killed by wind energy pales in comparison to other causes such as
windows and cats. Regardless of where the wind turbines are located, by minimizing reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power, they prevent the death and injury of wildlife that would otherwise occur across the world’s coal mines, uranium tail
ponds, oil refineries, natural gas facilities, uranium acidified forests, polluted lakes, and habitats soon to be threatened by climate change.

National Academy of Science:

Although most evaluations of the beneficial effects of wind-generated electricity, including the present one, have addressed the degree to which they reduce (through displacement) atmospheric emissions, other important effects are potentially displaced as well. For example, obtaining fossil fuel through mining, drilling, and chemical modification of one form to another (e.g., gasification of coal) has a variety of environmental effects including loss of habitat for terrestrial and aquatic species.

Operation of thermal (energy generation units), which generate heat to drive turbines, produces heated water, either from cooling or in the form of steam to drive the turbines, or both. If the energy from the heated water is not recovered, the water is usually discharged into the environment; in closed cooling systems, its heat is discharged. All forms of generation have associated life-cycle emissions and wastes along with other environmental effects that are affected by the design, materials provision (including mining), manufacture, construction, transportation, assembly, operation, maintenance, retrofits, and decommissioning of the generators and their associated infrastructure. Some of these stages of the life cycle—most notably, mining—have adverse effects on human health as well.


78 Responses to “Why Coal and Nuclear Plants Kill Far More Birds than Wind Power”

  1. […] The eagle issue is a good reminder that no energy project is free of impacts. In that regard it’s worth taking a look at studies of bird deaths linked to coal production and use. […]

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