By Christine Harbin Hanson
Tax incentives for green energy technologies find much of their support among environmental groups. They argue that government should give advantages to wind power because it is good for the environment, despite repeated evidence to the contrary.
Late this past week, a U.S. District Court in Wyoming ruled that a wind farm company violated the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, marking the first time that a wind farm project has been found guilty for killing birds. The company pleaded guilty to the death of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds at two wind projects in Montana from 2009 to the present. The parent company, Duke Energy Renewables, will pay fines of $1 million as a result. This could have implications for other wind farm projects throughout the country, and also on the future of federal supports for wind power.
The environmental downsides of the wind production tax credit (PTC) are something that Americans for Prosperity has highlighted for a long time. As I discussed in Roll Call in a piece from October 2012:
Wind turbines also kill birds by striking them with their blades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that wind turbines kill almost half a million birds per year, including protected species of eagles, raptors, hawks and owls. In the San Francisco Bay Area alone, wind turbines kill about 70 golden eagles each year. The American Bird Conservancy predicts that bird deaths could exceed a million per year if the United States reaches its wind power output goals in the next 20 years.
Even birds that manage to avoid colliding with the wind turbine blades face risks from wind power. Poorly located wind farms hurt birds by disrupting their migratory flight paths and nesting locations. This puts future bird populations in jeopardy, as it threatens their ability to produce new generations.
There is a certain element of hypocrisy in environmental groups’ consistent support for tax breaks for wind power despite the havoc it wreaks on endangered birds including eagles. Even though these groups have routinely used the impact on animal populations as a political tactic to shut down other kinds of energy development, they tend to look the other way when it involves wind power.
Curiously, they focus most on the animals that live in areas that are rich in oil and gas reserves. Americans for Prosperity has highlighted several of these cases before: the dune sage brush lizard in west Texas and New Mexico, the Greater Sage-Grouse in Montana, and the spotted owl in Oregon, to name a few.
If environmental groups were truly interested in protecting endangered animal populations, then they should be calling on Congress to end the main tax break for wind energy, the wind production tax credit (PTC). The PTC poses a direct threat to endangered bird populations by incenting companies to install more wind turbines than they would otherwise.
Fortunately, this handout is set to expire at the end of next month. Congress should let say “Gone with the Wind PTC!” and end it once and for all.