The U.S. Interior Department loosened restrictions designed to reduce the threat from wind farms that annually kill dozens of federally protected eagles.
That’s a small figure compared to the hundreds of millions of birds killed every year by cats, cars and mobile-phone towers. Wind farms killed about 573,000 birds in the U.S. last year, according to the Wildlife Society.
“In 2002, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated that communication towers kill 4 million to 5 million per year, cars kill roughly 60 million, cats kill hundreds of millions,” Amy Grace, a wind industry analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said today in by e-mail.
Almost 1 billion are killed annually from flying into windows, and “no one is protesting about bird deaths outside your new home,” she said.
David Ringer, a spokesman for the National Audubon Society, said 67 federally protected bald and golden eagles have been killed by turbines in the U.S. since 2008, a figure that excludes deaths in California’s Altamont Pass area, where as many as 60 to 75 eagles are killed every year.
Owners of wind farms may now extend for as long as 30 years permits that exempt them from federal regulations against the accidental killing of protected eagles, according to a statement from the Interior Department today.
The permits are subject to review every five years, the maximum length previously allowed by a 2009 decision, and applicants must “commit to adaptive management measures” to avoid killing birds. The fee to apply for a permit is $36,000, with each five-year review costing $2,600.
Duke Energy Corp., the largest U.S. utility owner, agreed last month to pay $1 million for the deaths of golden eagles and other migratory birds at two Wyoming wind farms.
Environmental groups said the decision favors the wind industry over wildlife.
“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” Audubon Society Chief Executive Officer David Yarnold said today in a statement. “It’s outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.”