They pretty much have to, thanks to coal-state congressman Nick Rahall
(R-West Virginia) who, concerned that the occasional deadly intersection
between birds and wind turbines constitutes "a violation of the Migratory
Bird Act and the Endangered Species Act," and so is pushing legislation that
would seriously curtail the generation of wind energy in the United States.
(Never mind that Audubon Society president John Flicker has given the wind
industry his blessing, saying that while we can measure how many birds are
killed in wind turbines every year the number killed by coal-fired power plants
is almost impossible to count.)
In any case, having attended the American Wind Energy Association’s annual
conference this year, it seemed clear that the industry was taking the issue
seriously (despite the fact that house cats kill more birds each year than
wind turbines — a few hundred million more).
The first thing they did was
admit responsibility: when they built a wind farm in Northern California’s
Altamont Pass, says congressman and wind advocate Jerry McNerney, "we had no
idea that birds would fly into those windmills. We figured they could see
better than us!" To address the problem, AWEA president Randall Swisher has
pledged to create a "wind wildlife institute" which will study the impact of
wind technology on birds and bats, and work to find technological solutions
to the problem.
But there was evidence on WINDPOWER 2007’s exhibit floor
that such innovations were already taking place: several companies were
marketing new, extra-tall wind turbine towers that not only put rotor blades
above the flight path of most birds, but take better advantage of
high-altitude, higher-velocity windspeeds. Hopefully the industry won’t be
playing defense on these kinds of issues (or non-issues, as the case may be)
for much longer.