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Wind Turbines, Sage Grouse and Pronghorns

I've been doing a little reading up on Sage Grouse and wind turbines lately. It's hard to find anything that isn't either a scholarly paper (ugh!) or a bit heavy on the environmental issues. Why Sage Grouse? Because they share the same habitat as pronghorns.

When a wind farm is built, there is a flurry of activity with bulldozers, earth scrapers, and a whole lot of other large, noisey machinery. Of course the wildlife is scared off. If there was a bunch of large machinery leveling off my home, I'd be a little nervous, too. The construction crews do what they need to do in order to make conditions right for the pouring of the concrete footings, then long, flat-bed, semi-trailers bring in the several components of the towers, generators, and finally the propellors. The turbines are assembled, then the crews are gone. All that is left is a hand-full, or less, of the technicians required to keep the new wind farm running. The big machines go away. Maybe the technicians walk from tower to tower, or they could drive a pick-up on their rounds, but the impact from this point on is minimal. If a tower needs a repair, the repairman (or team) is flown in, the repairs completed, then they leave.

How do I know this? The little town where we lived had it's own "experimental" wind farm. The two original towers were eventually taken down, and eight (I think) modern turbines stand in their place. There were also three other wind farms within sight of the town, and another just over the hill to the north. We were able watch the builidng of these sites over a long period of time.

The big worry is that wind farms remove habitat from Sage Grouse, Mule Deer and pronghorn. I can see where they'd be removing a small amount of habitat from Sage Grouse, since each turbine has a permanent concrete pad, which takes up some ground. Sage Grouse nest in the grasses and brush.

We never saw that many Mule Deer in the area of the wind farms. Oh, we saw a good share, but they didn't seem to be bothered much by the wind farms, once they were there. Same with pronghorns. I've seen pronghorn congregating under turbines and bedding in their shadows. (Whenever I bring this up, I usually hear, "oh, I'm sure you have, but....")

I know that we need to achieve a balance when it comes to our search for energy sources and needing to keep our environment livable for not just us, but all species. But where do you draw the line? In researching this, it has become clear that the issue of whether wind turbines and wildlife is actually secondary to the issue of whether the wind turbines are needed - at least to the degree that they are being constructed.

There is a tremendous overlooked issue, concerning the size (quantity of turbines). The number of turbines on the wind farms is the number of turbines needed to supply the electricity for the "end market". (The project nearest to our town had some 70 towers. The one 20 miles away was nearing 200 when we left Wyoming.) The major problem with all of those wind farms in Wyoming is that NONE of the power is for local markets. It is all being sent to California or Arizona, or some other far away place which makes the whole exercise inefficient in the extreme. When you transmit electrical power over a long distance there is a loss of power - the greater the distance, the greater the losses. The lines "bleed" energy the whole way. By the time wind power from Wyoming gets to California (a distance of 800 or more miles, over high altitude lines with higher than average losses most of the way), the power is reduced by 50% or more.

If the wind farms were smaller, and provided power only for cities and towns in Wyoming then it would make sense. And smaller wind farms have less of an impact on habitat. If you're going to build a wind farm outside of Rawlins, Wyoming, then have the farm supply energy to Rawlins or Rock Springs (maybe), not Hollywood or Seattle.
The capacity and technology is avaliable for these large cities to put (relatively) small turbines on the roofs of skyscrapers (high altitude, more wind) in order for those buildings, and maybe a few of their neighbors, to supply their own power. Why do massive turbines need to be built away from populations centers? Why are farms built hundreds of miles away?

It does not make sense from an economical standpoint either. High voltage power lines require between $1 and $4 million per mile to build. 800 miles, people! This makes wind power very costly by the time it gets there, and all of those miles require multiple electrical towers to support the power, each one on concrete footings, and each one with an effect on habitat. The lines then lose power the whole way - remember the effects of stray voltage on cattle? That same stray voltage runs along the entire line from Wyoming to California, with all the inherent negative effects on animals that live under them. While the effect is not significant for animals that wander past (such as antelope, who are migratory), it may be more significant for nesting birds.

Anyway, smaller wind farms would mean less of an impact on the habitat of Sage Grouse, pronghorn, or anything else. Sage Grouse, Mule Deer and pronghorn adapt with a changing environment.

The real issue isn't whether a wind turbine affects wildlife populations and health in an unreasonable way. The real issue is that the distances over which the power is transmitted are causing far more harm than the wind turbines themselves, and they are inflating the required numbers of turbines. This is the issue that environmentalists, lawmakers, and power companies are all avoiding.

Keep the power production near the end use locality. If that is done, impact issues become negligible.