When Green Energy Isn't

In the quest to find alternative energy sources we have come to understand that green energy is what we should want. Harvesting the sun of the south and winds of the Great Plains promises to reduce our reliance on carbon fuels and slow down global warming. But does it? Recently, a wind farm proposed in NW Missouri has brought home the reality that all green energy is not equal and may not be what we desire.

The Mill Creek Wind Farm is proposed to go in adjacent to Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge and 2 other conservation areas that are designated as IBAs- Important Bird Areas. Millions of birds migrate through this area each year and stopover to rest and refuel at the refuge and surrounding conservation areas.

Many species also go out into the surrounding farm fields to feed. Endangered bat species have also been documented in the area.

The American Bird Conservancy, the national leader in bird smart wind energy, has designated this as the only critical IBA in the state of Missouri and not suitable for adjacent wind energy. Yet, since it is wind energy, it has been heralded as the future as recently as Governor Jay Nixon's address on energy in June of this year. The fact that it puts millions of birds at risk of collision with the approximately 100 wind turbines due to be built in the area is often overlooked.

Altamont Pass Wind Farm in California is estimated to have killed approximately 1,245 annually of just 4 species combined- Burrowing Owls, American Kestrels, Golden Eagles and Red-tail Hawks, as recently as 2005. Changes in operation of the wind farm has been estimated to reduce the annual mortality of those 4 species combined to approximately 625 birds annually. A price many consider still far too high.

Another California facility, the world’s largest solar facility located in the Mojave Desert, opened in February 2014. It has recently been in the news for incinerating birds as they fly over. According to one recent article on weather.com, it may be responsible for killing up to 28,000 birds annually.

As the green energy debate and the toll it takes on nature has now entered NW Missouri, the reality that not all green energy is as 'green' as it may be if located elsewhere or designed differently. This is bound to be a topic that continues to arise as we explore alternative ways to meet our energy needs.

By Mary Nemecek

FALL 2014