To Kill a Windmill

By Andrew Addison

Are wind turbines all they are cracked up to be? Do they contribute to harm and death to their surrounding environment? Andrew Addison says they do.

It has long been established within our society that wind mills or turbines are harmless and beneficial to those around them. Written in 1602, the novel Don Quixote is recognised as one of the earliest novels ever published. In this novel the hero of the story, Sancho Panza, is forced to calm his deluded Master and explain to him that he has no reason to do battle with or fight the distant windmills with the famous line, “Take care, your worship, those things over there are not giants but windmills.” But perhaps Sancho Panza was wrong to stop resistance against the wind mills.

In the face of unpredictable climate change, environmental values have been forced to yield to renewable energy developments resulting in the deaths of endangered native wildlife. In the last decade, wind energy has emerged as a favourite source of renewable energy which assists in lowering the amount of greenhouse gases emitted through energy production in Australia. Unfortunately, wind turbines have the capacity to be lethal to native flying fauna.

“Action on climate change may be important, but we should definitely not permit the issuance of licences to kill our otherwise protected wildlife.”

Wedge-tailed Eagles are classified as endangered and are protected throughout Australia. As birds, they are highly aerial in their behaviour. They favour areas or conditions where they can exploit thermals and updrafts off cliffs and escarpments to gain lifts of up to 2000m and search for prey. These same conditions create frequent wind which renders such areas appropriate for wind farms. When turbines are inevitably positioned along the flight paths of eagles, the rotating blades of wind turbines often kill those eagles.

In the recent Land and Environment Court decision of Taralga v Minister for Planning, the court considered a proposal to construct a wind farm on the edge Cockbundoon Range just east of Taralga in New South Wales. Chief Justice Preston acknowledged that thermals and up-drafts associated with the edge of the range are exploited by the local Wedge-tailed Eagle population and due to that particular flight path of the eagles, fatalities were “highly likely.” The Court then ordered a management plan to be prepared which involved implementations such as; swift carcass removal; the minimisation of perching opportunities; hanging balls and/or flags on overhead wires; and preventing visitors from feeding birds within the site.

No listed condition addressed the issue that the turbines are operating directly within the eagles’ flight path. In fact, the Court simply imposed a relatively small fine of $1,500 per eagle killed.

This is by no means an isolated occurrence. In 2005, experts predicted that across the Tasmanian wind farms of Woolnorth, Mussleroe, Heemskirk, Jim’s Plain, Huxley Hill and Flinders Island, just one Wedge-Tailed Eagle would be killed by a collision with a wind turbine each year. However in 2010, it was reported that in relation to the Woolnorth Windfarm alone, 19 Wedge-Tailed Eagles had been killed within seven years. Unbelievably in Victoria, the Bald Hills Wind Farm continues to operate despite posing a risk to the Orange-bellied Parrot. This parrot is currently critically endangered and is highly likely to go extinct within 50 years.

As a society, we should become more cautious before erecting wind turbines. Action on climate change may be important, but we should definitely not permit the issuance of licences to kill our otherwise protected wildlife. Perhaps now, some 400 years later, we may breathe reason into the delusion of Sancho Panza’s Master. He may actually have had grounds to resist those windmills, he was just unaware of them at the time.

 

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