A report out yesterday from the National Academy of Sciences generated quite a bit of coverage on a rather old topic: wind energy's impact on wildlife. Most of the report was dedicated to wildlife issues, but there was also discussion of wind's ability to offset emissions. It's amazing to see the same report covered so differently in so many media outlets, but in general, the coverage, like the report, was pretty balanced.
On the wildlife topic, the San Francisco Chronicle nailed the issue with its piece: "Cats, not windmills, bigger threat to birds." Not only did the Chronicle dig into the report to learn that modern wind farms don't have a big impact to birds, especially when compared to other sources like buildings, vehicles, and cats, but also that there is a concern about bats at some projects. In the rush to write copy, reporters often overlooked the bats. The wind industry isn't overlooking them, though. We're collaborating with the likes of Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to fund the much needed research into why bats are being harmed, but also innovative ways to prevent it.
Wind's ability to contribute to global warming solutions was also recognized in the report. In the rather conservative scenario used wind still displaces 140 million tons of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, annually by 2020--which is 30% of the expected emissions increase in the electricity sector by that year. The NY Times, however, focused on a different slant, saying that wind would not lessen sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, two air pollutants associated with power generation. Since there is a cap on those pollutants, wind does not directly reduce those emissions. That’s not a problem with wind energy -- it's zero-emissions--but a result of the way cap-and trade laws are crafted.
All in all, we saw much ink spilled about what we already know, wind energy does have an impact to the environment, just like any other human activity. All that ink doesn't change the fact that wind energy is still one of the most environmentally-friendly energy technologies in the world. I just hope that when and if we ever see a study comparing the environmental impacts of all energy sources, it generates the same (or hopefully much much more) buzz.