As wind farms spread in the Valley, concern about avian deaths grows

HARLINGEN — Generating electricity from the flowing winds that caress Texas from every direction began as a dream.

Now the state is by far the leading wind energy producer in the United States. Texas, with its 18,000 megawatts of annual wind-blown power, nearly triples second-ranking Iowa’s 6,212 megawatts.

Yet with all things, the growth of wind power and the vast turbine farms needed to generate electricity efficiently also bring a fair measure of unforeseen and unintended consequences.

Wind turbines are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds each year, mostly small, migrating songbirds.

Texas is among the leaders there, too.

A rough estimate — and sadly there is little hard data on avian mortality from wind turbines — indicates Texas wind farms are responsible for between 123,000 and 146,000 avian deaths a year.

Nationally, some estimates put avian mortality from hitting the spinning blades on wind turbines at more than 500,000 per year, although some dispute that figure as being too high.

“That’s a dilemma Audubon and the Sierra Club are in,” said Jim Chapman, chairman of the Sierra Club’s Lower Rio Grande Valley Group.

“They’re pushing for carbon-free energy really hard, and obviously wind is a big part of that, and to some degree they’re turning a blind eye to the slaughter that entails,” Chapman said of the bird deaths.

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What kills birds?

– Wind turbines — 214,000 to 368,000 per year

– Communication towers — 6.8 million per year

– Vehicles — 60 to

80 million per year

– Cats — 1.4 to 3.7 billion per year, 65 percent songbirds

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2012 study

Measuring wind turbine bird mortality

– Bird deaths from wind farms are measured in deaths per megawatt per year.

– Average bird deaths per megawatt nationally range from 2 to 3 at low end, 10 to 12 at high end.

– In South Texas, bird deaths per megawatt are about 7 to 8 birds per year.

– Texas produces 18,000 megawatts annually of wind energy.

– Estimated bird deaths statewide are between 126,000 and 144,000 bird deaths annually.