Apr
05
2011

North Dakota wind farm destroyed by birds. Sort of.

Whooping cranes: Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.
Whooping cranes: Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife
Word on the street is that Xcel Energy has canceled its $400 million, 150-megawatt wind farm project in North Dakota. (North Dakota, if I remember my geography right, is the Dakota directly … above South Dakota. I think.)

The reason Xcel is giving for the cancellation is the same one I give for never going out in the yard without a rake: birds.

The wind turbines, it seems, could pose a potential hazard to two endangered birds: the whooping crane (known to be a silent, thoughtful bird), and the piping plover (known for perching on bathroom windowsills to watch people bathe). The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America (save that for humiliating your fiancé on trivia night), and its population has been reduced to only about 400 birds, largely due to habitat loss. The piping plover, also a victim of habitat loss, is a shore bird with a global population of just over 6,000 individuals.

Faced with a federal mandate to mitigate the threat to the birds, Xcel, like an unenthusiastic kid who just found out he’d have to bike to a lame birthday party, decided that that the wind farm scene just wasn’t worth the hassle.

It’s too bad, really. Shana explored this issue a couple weeks ago, but the long and the short of it is that it’s a doozy. On one hand, no one wants to see a five-foot-tall crane run into a windmill (if you laugh, you go to Denny’s when you die), but on the other, you have to balance that threat against the chronic environmental effects of fossil fuel use. If both species are vulnerable to habitat loss, climate change probably isn’t going to be a great thing for them. And at least in the case of the cranes, fossil fuel has an even more direct effect on them—the cranes’ only winter habitat, Aransas, Texas, is a regular spot for oil and gas drilling operations. So … they’re able to work that out, but not the North Dakota wind farm?

It kind of feels like that kid was really looking for an excuse not to go to the birthday party. But I suppose we can’t really blame it all on the kid—we should have made sure it was a better party. And, yeah, I can see how having a bunch of birds around would make for a creepy party, but if it was done right it could also be an awesome party with all those birds!

Oh, god, I don’t know what’s metaphor and what’s reality anymore.

Anyway, no more big wind turbine field in North Dakota. What do y’all think about that?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Shana's picture
Shana says:

Lame. There's a lot of North Dakota. Couldn't they find someplace to put a windfarm that wasn't in the way?

posted on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 12:14pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Probably. But I suppose it's complicated—As far as I can tell, neither species has major habitat in North Dakota, so I'm guessing the issue was with migration routes? It could be that the most productive spot to put the wind farm coincided with the route.

Doing a big wind farm is probably a pretty hard sell, and the more hassle involved, the less likely it is it'll happen. I have the feeling that if it were a natural gas or oil field, they'd figure out a way to make it work. Not to be all "screw the Man and his fossil fuel industrial complex"—I just think the immediate payoff would be way bigger. But wind farms? Meh.

posted on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 12:23pm
JackU's picture
JackU says:

Yes there is a lot of North Dakota, but the wind farm needs to be near existing transmission lines or new lines will need to be built. It doesn't do a whole lot of good to generate the electricity if you can't get it to people's stuff. So the combination of wind turbine towers and power lines probably cause more havoc on the Cranes than Xcel wants to mitigate.

posted on Wed, 04/06/2011 - 12:43pm

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