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.


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

  1. […] Republished from the Climate Rocks Blog: Why Coal and Nuclear Plants Kill Far More Birds than Wind Power. […]

  2. […] mining (e.g. of coal), oil spills and pollution, the impact of wind turbines on birds is tiny and much lower than other energy sources. This is why the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) supports wind power in general, […]

  3. […] Coming ChaosSoy sauce containers and anime figurinesHow to Get a Community to Accept Nuclear WasteWhy Coal and Nuclear Plants Kill Far More Birds than Wind PowerManaging the Restoration in Quake-Hit JapanFifteen flies again – John […]

  4. […] It’s true that complaining about coal comes across as whining, but I can see both sides of the coin. My new book is largely about “kicking butt in the marketplace,” but it’s extremely important that people become aware of the incredible level of damage that coal plants cause. The Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign has been a powerful force in this direction, but there’s a great deal more work to be done. Did you know that (though this is a complicated issue that brings about many “apples-to-oranges” comparisons) coal plants kill FAR more birds that wind turbines? […]

  5. […] is already some data on comparisons between generation technologies and avian […]

  6. House cats do not kill eagles and other endangered species as wind does.
    There are a lot of photos and videos showing that wind and solar are slathering millions of birds and bats.

    While against nuclear just biased data already debunked: “His second example does not even involve a uranium mine, it is an old abandoned copper mine in Montana.”
    “The end result is not too surprising – wind power kills lots of birds and bats, by factors of ten more than nuclear power.”

    • j4zonian Says:

      No, there are not such videos and pictures. There are pictures and videos showing wind turbines killing a very, very few birds. Conservatives and anti-wind extremists have used this and other Koch-Exxon-ALEC et al generated lies to try to forestall the coming dominance of renewables. Virtually every statement you made was false.

      Nuclear kills twice the birds wind power does per Gwh. Fossil fuels kill 17 times more birds than wind power not even including the enormous cost climate catastrophe will take. (It’s possible that if we don’t rapidly replace fossil fuels with clean safe renewables we will wipe out all bird species and millions of others besides.) Fossil and nuclear fuels also have infinitely worse effects on amphibians, reptiles, insects, mammals, trees, flowering plants, and others as well as whole ecosystems.

      But in fact, other things humans do kill hundreds of thousands of times more birds–cats, cars, buildings… and yes, pesticides, agriculture, habitat loss kill raptors as well as waterfowl and other birds. I’m curious how many posts you’ve made protesting such other bird-killers. Please include some links to them.

      About 40% of the wind-caused bird kills in the US are from one old, badly sited and designed place, Altamont Pass in California. That means we’ve dramatically improved siting, turbine design and the ecological performance of wind power. since then So it used to be great, and it’s even better than it was. And of course, the combination of efficiency, wind and solar is much better even than wind alone. Clean safe renewable energy is a combination of the most benign energy sources ever invented, the best thing humans have done for wildlife (or themselves) for 10,000 years.

      I believe we’ve had this conversation before; you should pay attention when your errors are corrected, and do better research before you post.


  7. […] 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. […]

  8. […] 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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