I finance wind farms on a non-recourse
basis, which means that we only get repaid from the money generated by the project, and we cannot go to the owner and say "pay us back" if the project does not perform as expected (obviously except if we can prove that the owner messed up its job really badly, but that's pretty hard). Which means that we need to make sure that the project will work well enough and long enough for us to be repaid, and that it will not be subject to any kind of regulatory or legal obstacles. Which in turn, requires a number of things:
- we need to make sure that the project is technically sound and will be operated by qualified people, at a cost that remains within expectations;
- we need to be sure that there will be enough wind each year to repay our debt;
- we want the project to have all permits, licenses, authorisations, as well as the goodwill of the local people becasue we do not want anything or anybody to try to prevent it from operating.
And please note - we are bankers: in the best case, we get paid our interest, but in the worst case, we lose our investment. If there is not enough wind to pay the debt, we lose money; if there is more wind than expected, we do NOT earn a cent more. So we really want to be sure that nothing will go wrong beyond a conservative range of variations that we can live with. And we lend money over 15 years, so all these things must be true throughout.
My job is to find out everything that can go wrong with a wind farm and make sure that it is very unlikely to happen to our projects. So I ca ncertainly speak about the issues above because I have raised them before as a part of my job on each project.
I have yet to see a project where birds were a major issue. It is addressed in each project but is usually a very minor topic.
The only reason this topic is even raised, I think, is because of the Altamont Pass wind farm, which was built (in the early 80s) on a migration path and which used technology which was lethal to birds. As far as I know, it is really an exceptional case.
Here are links to a number of studies that show that it is really a minor issue:
From the AWEA (pdf) (American Wind Energy Association, admittedly not the most impartial entity, but it's where I found the cleanest version of that graph, which comes from a serious scientific study: Erickson, W.P., G.D. Johnson, and D.P. Young. 2004. Summary of anthropogenic causes of bird mortality. Proceedings of the 2002 International Partner's in Flight Conference, Monterrey, California.)
Here's a recent Dutch study:
Wind turbines not so deadly for birds -Dutch study
(Yahoo, 5 July 2005 - here's the link in Dutch from the Dutch Bird protection society
Wind turbines producing "green" energy kill many fewer birds than previously thought and pose less of a threat to avian life than cars, a study by the Dutch Bird Protection charity and power utility Nuon showed.
The study, published on Wednesday, was based on results from three wind farms. It showed each turbine killed an average 28 birds per year, a third of what had been assumed on the basis of research conducted in the 1980s.
"The mathematical model which was used up until now seems to predict too many collision victims for modern wind turbines in the Netherlands," Bird Protection and Nuon said in a statement.
The new study suggests the Netherlands' 1,700 wind turbines kill about 50,000 birds a year. About 2 million birds perish each year on Dutch roads, it said.
The study showed that large wind turbines producing more than 1.5 megawatts of power killed slightly more birds than smaller, older windmills, but Bird Protection noted that the bigger windmills produce five to 10 times more electricity.
And another Danish one, about offshore wind farms:
Wind turbines a breeze for migrating birds
(New Scientist, June 2005)
MIGRATING birds seldom dice with death among the spinning blades of wind turbines. Instead, they give them a wide berth, according to a study of a Danish offshore wind farm.
To see whether the 13,000 offshore turbines planned for European waters would be a hazard to migrating birds, Mark Desholm and Johnny Kahlert of the National Environmental Research Institute in Rønde, Denmark, used radar to track flocks of geese and eider ducks around the Nysted wind farm in the Baltic Sea. The farm's 72 turbines are laid out in rows with their blades 480 metres apart.
Desholm and Kahlert found that the birds flew almost exclusively down the corridors between the turbines, with less than 1 per cent getting close enough to risk collision. The birds gave the turbines an even wider berth at night, sticking more closely to the middle of the corridors.
Many also avoided the wind farm altogether. The researchers found that while 40 per cent of flocks in the survey area crossed the wind farm site before construction started, only 9 per cent ventured among the turbines once they were operating (Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2005.0336).
And here is what the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has to say:
RSPB on Wind farms
The RSPB views climate change as the most serious long-term threat to wildlife in the UK and globally and, therefore, we support the Government's target to source 15% of electricity from renewables by 2015.
To meet this target, the RSPB favours a broad mix of renewables, especially those, like solar energy, with large long- term potential and minimal environmental impacts. However, wind power has the greatest potential to make a significant difference in the UK in the coming decade. It is the most advanced and widely available of the new renewable technologies.
Wind Farms and Birds
The available evidence suggests that appropriately positioned wind farms do not pose a significant hazard for birds. However, evidence from the US and Spain confirms that poorly sited wind farms can cause severe problems for birds, through disturbance, habitat loss/damage or collision with turbines.
Because of this, the RSPB has objected to 27 wind farm proposals (on and offshore) between 1998-2003 and has raised concerns about a further 29. Currently we are objecting to a proposed wind farm at Shell Flat off the Lancashire coast as it is home to one of the UK's most important flocks of wintering common scoters.
The RSPB insists that wind farm proposals that may affect sensitive bird populations or their habitats are subject to rigorous environmental assessment before development is permitted and that the effects of any approved developments are monitored before and after construction.
We will, and do, object to specific wind farm proposals where there is an inadequate environmental assessment, where the assessment reveals potential environmental problems that cannot be mitigated, or where there is insufficient knowledge about the threat to sensitive bird populations or their habitats to conclude that there will not be a problem.
Note - as bankers, we require exactly the same thing, and we do not lend any money without such assessments (always conducted by independent third parties) done and showing favorable results.
So can we please lay this "it kills birds" story to rest? Thanks!
The other topics in another diary.
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