Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Plans Large Wind Turbine

By Paul Gipe

A Significant Move in Britain’s Polarized Renewables Climate

Contrasts Markedly with Similar But More Timid Moves in the US


Britian’s principal bird-protection society has announced plans to install a large wind turbine. The move may be unique in the English-speaking world where anti-wind lobbyists have argued that wind turbines are bird-dicing mega-machines and bird lovers oppose the use of wind energy.

This spring the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) revealed a planning application to install a mult-megawatt wind turbine at its headquarters, called “The Lodge” near Sandy, Bedfordshire north of London. The turbine, if approved by local planning authorities would be installed–at the earliest–in autumn 2013 says the RSPB.

Anti-wind lobbyists, backed by contributions from the fossil-fuel industry and their media allies, have used the long-running unresolved controversy in California’s Altamont Pass to paint a dark picture of wind energy to taint its green appeal.

Wind turbines in the Altamont Pass have been killing golden eagles and other birds in sizeable numbers for two decades.

Wind turbines can and do kill birds and bats, but the outsize problem in the Altamont Pass remains unique. There are few other locations worldwide where wind turbines have such a significant impact on wildlife.

Environmental groups, including the Audubon Society in the USA and the RSPB in Britain, have publicly made the case that they support the responsible use of wind energy to address climate change and reduce pollution and habitat destruction from fossil fuels.

The Audubon Society is the largest and most influential bird protection society in the USA. They are America’s equivalent of the RSPB.

However in the US, environmental groups have been content with building renovations (Audubon), and the installation of token wind turbines (Nature Conservancy) and some modest solar projects.

The turbine proposed by the RSPB is not a token turbine. It is a modern multi-megawatt machine that would be found installed singly and small clusters by farmers in Germany or installed in wind farms by commercial wind developers in Britain. The turbine pictured in the RSPB’s release is an Enercon, a German-manufactured wind turbine. There are several individual Enercon wind turbines operating in Britain. There is an Ecotricity wind turbine, like that proposed by the RSPB, alongside the M40 from London to Bristol.

In the early 1980s, the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania a 1 kW Bergey at its Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve near Pittsburgh. Several decades later the wind turbine was joined by a 1.5 kW PV array. The Preserve’s trail map still shows the wind turbine’s location.

Since then, the turbine has been upgraded to a 10 kW Bergey and the solar system boosted to 2.2 kW.

The RSPB’s wind turbine will be some 200 times larger than the turbine at Beechwood Farms, though it should be noted that there were few commercial-scale wind turbines in the USA in 1980 when Beechwood Farms installed its then pioneering wind turbine.

In the spring of 2012, the Nature Conservancy in Indianapolis, Indiana installed three poorly sited Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines on short towers in front of their recently renovated office building. In a fit of hyperbole the Nature Conservancy called these turbines the “crown jewel” of its new state headquarters.

The Nature Conservancy “wind turbines” (they are more correctly identified as lawn ornaments) will produce-at best-tens of kilowatt-hours annually in contrast to RSPB’s wind turbine’s millions of kilowatt-hours per year.

Further, the sophistication of the RSPB’s proposal and its accompanying explanation of why it is taking such action, contrasts with the often naïve and poorly informed positions of groups such as the Nature Conservancy in Indiana.

Below are some selected excerpts from the RSPB’s justification for their decision.

Wind turbine proposal

“We know that with the right design and location wind turbines have little or no impact on wildlife. We hope that by siting a wind turbine at our UK headquarters, we will demonstrate to others that with a thorough environmental assessment and the right planning and design, renewable energy and a healthy, thriving environment can go hand in hand.”

Why does the RSPB support renewable energy?

“As one of the UK’s leading environmental organisations, it is important that we play a pro-active role in leading action towards meeting national carbon reduction targets – particularly given our concern about the threat of climate change to birds and wildlife.

We favour a broad mix of renewables, including solar, wind, and marine power, as long as they are sensitively sited to avoid impacts on wildlife and the wider environment. . .

“Why is the RSPB building a wind turbine at The Lodge instead of using another type of renewable energy?

“We have invested in, and are further developing, a mix of renewable energy generation sources at our sites. When considering the use of any renewable energy technology, we make sure that we carefully match it to a location that maximises its efficiency and minimises its environmental impact. . .

“The turbine is predicted to produce 2.36 million kWh per annum. Generating this electricity from a solar panel installation would require 12,545 panels that would cover an area of 5 ha or 12.5 acres. The turbine footprint is only 40 m2, which allows us to generate the electricity that we need, and maintain the size of our reserve. . .

Effects on the local environment

“Current data from monitoring on the site so far has shown that there is unlikely to be any significant impact on birds in the area. . .

Will the wind turbine produce low frequency noise?

“There is always low frequency noise present in any ambient quiet background and it can be produced by a variety of man-made sources, including machinery and transport and natural sources such as the sea, wind and thunder.

“It has been repeatedly shown by measurements of wind turbine noise undertaken in the UK, Denmark, Germany and the USA over the past decade – and accepted by experienced noise professionals – that the levels of low frequency noise and vibration radiated from modern, upwind configuration wind turbines are at a very low level, so low in fact that they lie below the threshold of perception. . .”