SciSun: Hot Air   Leave a comment

Despite the water crisis throughout most of the Western United States, today giants are sprouting up in the California deserts. But these aren’t trees, or flowers, or cactus, or even weeds – they’re power-generating windmills, one of the newest, and generally most highly-regarded, types of renewable, sustainable energy solutions that are desperately needed in an area where power demands continue to grow, and conventional energy resources become more scarce. Is the answer, our friends, really blowin’ in the wind?

Maybe not. Just as so many other energy choices that appear positive on one hand yet result in negative results elsewhere (like, all energy choices), there could be serious consequences to these towering propeller-platforms and their effects on the wildlife and natural environments that might seem barren, but actually are home to plants and animals that don’t have anywhere else to live.

The Peninsular Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis cremnobates), an officially Endangered Species, is found only in low-elevation canyons and sparsely-open lands in the foothills of two mountain ranges in far southern California and into northern Mexico. Currently, more than 10,000 acres of land where the sheep range have been authorized as construction zones for a large-scale wind energy project of 112 turbine towers and associated buildings, roads, and other necessary development. This decision didn’t take into account that in recent surveys, scientists have noted a deadly pneumonia outbreak among the sheep populations, and recorded fewer of the animals than have ever been seen in the past.

“I don't know, they just popped up.  Kinda' ruins the view.”

“I don’t know, they just popped up. Kinda’ ruins the view.”


While birdstrikes are reported as ‘lower than expected’ on many existing wind towers (probably just one strike is more than the birds expected), recently the ‘Alta East Wind Project’ has been approved on land very close, and some scientists believe, within the range of the critically endangered California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus). With only 417 total birds alive – of those just 240 released into their natural environment, the remainder in zoos and research centers – it would be an irreversible loss if just one of the animals were killed or injured. Yet the company building the wind farm has assured the government and concerned friend-of-condor organizations that if any of the birds are ‘lost’, the company will pay fines and take steps to make the over 100 foot blades, sitting on top of a 200 foot tower, more safe for any avian passers-by. We don’t know if that includes teaching the birds that something they’ve never seen before, and don’t know how to approach, isn’t a tree or rocky cliff but a set of massive, continually moving metal vanes that sweep through almost an acre of space with each revolution.

And on the ground it isn’t much safer. Populations of the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii and Gopherus morafkai) are declining despite their status as Endangered Species and the fact the much of the animals’ range is on restricted, government-managed land. Although uniquely evolved for harsh desert life, the reptiles seem to be suffering from climate change and drought – which results in hotter temperatures, fewer and fewer plants and harder to find water. No matter how long you’ve lived in the desert, you still need food and water. But with the ‘growth’ of wind farms (‘Windmills might be made by a company, but only God can make a tree’) and the fast pace of exploration, construction and human activity far into areas where few men had been before, tortoise have no place to run.

Of course, without new and reliable energy resources (California officials estimate an additional 20,000 megawatts of power necessary to keep up with demand) we won’t be able to enjoy the conveniences we take for granted today – like plentiful electricity; clean running water (it takes power to filter and treat all that water!); new products (elves might make toys, but most everything else comes from factories); and even comfortable places to live (summer without air conditioning?). At some point, most decisions humans make – and the lifestyles we choose to live – effects someone else whether they be other people, animals, plants, or the earth itself. The most each of us can do is consider the potential of our individual decisions, and take actions that don’t result in negative results to others. Or maybe, even produce positive outcomes and we give back more than we take. Or else we’ll all just be talking a lot of hot air.


Michonne Says: ‘Wind farm’? One time I went to a farm and there were lots of good things to eat. But lots of man-things too, like wires and flat tree-sticks in the ground so it was scary and I ran away. Why do men want to keep wind behind wires?

Posted February 2, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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