TCS Daily


The Cruel Wind of Energy Crisis

By Carolyn Lochhead - May 14, 2001 12:00 AM

If only Tippi Hedren could have held off those birds in Bodega Bay until California`s energy crisis.

Her problems may have been solved by windmills, those bird Cuisinarts eagerly touted as an earth-friendly form of electricity generation.

Strategic placement of a few modern windmills near that famous jungle gym -- where Tippi got a big clue about trouble ahead -- might have averted her later disasters with those monstrous flocks.

Windmills don`t just grind up those bad sparrows, gulls, pigeons and crows, either.

A local newspaper report noted that a wind farm in the Altamont Pass east of Livermore has "sucked in scores of raptors, including golden eagles, which nest nearby. Trapped in the inescapable wind currents, they are chewed to pieces by the powerful blades of the propeller."

Between 1992 and 1998, 1,025 birds were killed by the windmills, including 149 of the golden eagles that nest nearby.

So far, there are no reports of the endangered California condor, just recovering from near extinction, getting ground up, although the combination of blackouts and the frenzy over clean fuels may yet take a few.

Known as "green power," windmills emit no nuclear waste or greenhouse gases, only bird feathers. Exelon, a Pennsylvania utility, is erecting a big new wind farm on the Moosic Mountain. Even though the power costs 40 percent more than electricity generated by fossil fuels, a spokesman said customers will pay more for earth-friendly energy.

"We believe consumers want the ability to purchase renewable energy," the company said, adding that the project "evidences the commitment of the region`s electricity customers to add clean, renewable power to their energy mix."

President Bush is joining in. After getting slammed by environmentalists for short-shrifting alternative fuels in his budget, Bush is expected include tax breaks for wind energy in his new energy policy when he unveils it on Thursday.

Wind farms also double as sculpture gardens for mountain passes, open plains and long windswept beaches. No longer the quaint versions of old Holland or the lone prairie farmhouse, new windmills are sleek modern art. The latest versions are 29 stories high with 200-foot rotor blades.

Experts say these are more bird friendly than the old models. Fewer of them are needed, and the giant blades turn more slowly, which theoretically allows the birds to see the blades and fly about without getting creamed.

Wind power enjoys strong backing from environmental groups. Former Clinton Energy Secretary Bill Richardson had plans for wind to provide 5 percent of U. S. power needs by 2020. European governments have made wind "the technology of choice" to replace fossil-fuel generators.

But hey, power doesn`t come from a light switch, as they say. Something`s got to give.

Bush, for his part, doesn`t want to raise fuel economy standards for SUVs, at least not before the National Academy of Sciences does a study. The academy might discover what everyone already knows, which is that SUVs were created by Congress when it sewed a loophole into the fuel standards for light trucks and vans. The aim was to aid small businesses and construction workers; the result was the SUV.

Americans love to drive SUVs, usually at 85 mph on the nearest freeway. They`re also worried that gasoline prices are going up, over $2 a gallon in some parts of the country. So Bush wants to refine more gas so they don`t have to worry so much.

Democrats say that`s a bad idea, because they`re concerned about the environment. But they don`t want prices to go up either, because that would force people to drive less.

In fact, the last time gas prices went up, Democrats shed their worries about global warming and swore they`d nail the oil companies for price gouging.

It`s too late for Tippi, who last we saw was being driven down a road where the birds were in total control. But come to think of it, maybe that`s not such a bad idea.
Reprinted with permission from the San Francisco Chronicle
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