Wind turbines don’t produce greenhouse gases like burning fossil fuels, but they aren’t perfect. They are, unfortunately, responsible for hundreds of thousands of bird and bat deaths.
The birds and bats are killed either by the blades themselves or by the pressure changes created by the turbines. The population of birds around wind turbines can compensate for some amount of mortality, but recent research has found that they aren’t just killing local birds.
Golden eagles killed at the Altamont wind farm in northern California are mostly local, but as many as 25 percent of those birds had comes from up to several hundred miles away, which means those deaths are affecting other bird populations as well.
While we can account for a certain amount of deaths, before this study it was assumed that only local birds and bats are killed. However, it seems that in at least some species, dead birds can originate from quite far away, giving wind farms a larger ecological footprint than expected.
This is a difficult issue. More research is needed to understand how wind turbines affect birds and bats, but it seems obvious already that we have to figure out some way to reduce animal deaths around wind farms.
In the long run, alternatives like wind and solar energy are essential to fighting the effects of global climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but if they can only do so by damaging or destroying bird and bat populations, we run the risk of doing serious, perhaps even irreparable ecological damage in other ways.
Wind farms are one of the most efficient generators of electricity developed thus far, so abandoning wind turbines is out of the question. Researchers are working on ways to reduce bat and bird deaths, but unfortunately we need more information than we currently have in order to take concrete steps in that direction.