Huge Wind Farm Will Help Not Harm Rare Birds, Says Supreme Court

CC BY-SA 2.0. Aztlek

Wind turbines can kill birds. Climate change will kill birds.

What's a good TreeHugger to do?

A ruling by the UK's Supreme Court, as reported over at Business Green, has taken a stand where one project is concerned. In giving the go ahead for the 370MW Viking onshore wind farm on The Shetland Islands, the court rejected concerns about risk to the nesting habitat of the rare whimbrel seabird, noting that the developers' biodiversity and conservation plans may actually enhance, not harm, whimbrel populations:

Minsters had decided that as less than four whimbrels per year were expected to collide with the turbines, the impact on the species would be "very small", particularly when compared to the 72-108 annual deaths of the birds from other causes. The Ministers also agreed that Viking's habitat management plan (HMP) for the scheme would benefit wild birds more than harm them. The legal action had already been taken through Scotland's courts and today five judges in the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the campaigners' case and refused to refer it to the EU for further clarification.

This decision will result in a big uptick in renewable energy. Not only is the proposed wind farm, which can now begin construction, huge—it is also slated to become one of the most productive in the world. According to The Guardian, a nearby smaller wind farm has never dipped below a 50% load factor due to consistently high winds.

While anti-renewables groups often call wind turbines "bird mincers", the real truth of the "bird versus turbine" debate is a lot more complicated than that. After all, given the dire threat of climate change to bird populations, many bird conservation groups are urging a rapid transition to clean energy. Britain's Royal Society for Protection of Birds, for example, is even installing its own wind turbines and marketing clean energy to its members.

The real answer is neither to abandon wind energy, nor to ignore conservation concerns—but rather to seek the most responsible development of clean energy sources possible. Sometimes that will mean leaving sites undeveloped. And sometimes it will mean moving ahead with renewables, while making every effort to preserve and even enhance wildlife habitat in the process.

The Supreme Court's decision suggests there are ways to get this done, although I doubt that local opposition will see it the same way.

In other related news, research suggests birds are avoiding offshore wind farms.