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OPINION: Heed bird advocacy groups on wind energy

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By The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald

The key word in the debate about birds, wind, oil and energy is neither birds, wind, oil nor energy.

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The key word is externalities, a technical but useful term from economics.

“An externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit,” as Wikipedia describes. A homeowner’s flower garden creates positive externalities — namely, good feelings among passersby and higher property values for the neighbors.

And a lit cigarette creates negative externalities, as the controversies about secondhand smoke show.

Wind turbines kill birds, a negative externality if there ever was one. And the conservative Heartland Institute as well as conservation groups such as the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy are right to call attention to that fact.

But the mining and raw burning of fossil fuels creates negative externalities, too, the most notable being the production of greenhouse gases. There are big arguments over how many birds are killed by wind turbines, and even bigger arguments about the scope of greenhouse gases’ effect on climate.

There are no arguments about the creation of those externalities, though. So, society is stuck with trying to balance the externalities’ harm with the energy sources’ good.

To that end, it’s useful to know where bird-advocacy groups come down. And the answer is on the side of wind power — but only if the projects are developed with bird mortality in mind.

“American Bird Conservancy supports wind power when it is bird-smart, and believes that birds and wind power can co-exist if the wind industry is held to mandatory standards that protect birds,” the conservancy states.

Here’s the Audubon Society on the same subject:

“Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threat posed to birds and people by climate change.

“However, we also advocate that wind power facilities should be planned, sited, and operated in ways that minimize harm to birds and other wildlife, and we advocate that wildlife agencies should ensure strong enforcement of the laws that protect birds and other wildlife.”

Wind power’s percentage of America’s energy production is sure to increase. With that in mind, developers and regulators should follow the conservation groups’ guidelines, because minimizing wind turbines’ impact on birds is in the best interests of us all.

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