Save bats, birds or the planet?


What’s all the fuss over the bat tartare and bird flambe being prepared at renewable energy sites around the Southwest? We’re just moving up the death sentences that would be carried out by the coming climate change doomsday, right?

The threat of mass extinctions is one justification for the rapid construction of solar, wind and geothermal generation facilities at huge taxpayer and ratepayer expense. If we fail to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions, if we don’t replace much of our carbon-fueled power with clean energy, the apocalypse set has warned of damage to the planet that will wipe out all kinds of species, from the oceans to the mountains.

(Of course, the greens first said we passed the climate change point of no return about two decades ago. Miraculously, the moment when environmental damage becomes completely irreversible keeps moving up. But I digress.)

However, it turns out renewable energy isn’t a magic salve for Mother Earth. It causes environmental damage, too.

Last week, the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean reported the slaughter of bats at a massive wind farm 260 miles northeast of Las Vegas has led to a reduction in generation. The wind farm’s 66 turbines, each of which is up to 425 feet tall, chopped up an estimated 566 bats last year. Pattern Energy, which owns the wind farm, was allowed to kill only 169 bats per year.

Keep in mind that these particular bats aren’t endangered or threatened. In fact, an estimated 3 million of them migrate to a cave nearby. And never mind that the turbines killed just 40 birds last year when up to 178 bird deaths are allowed. But killing one or two bats per day is a calamity that could lead to the shutdown of turbines on certain nights.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press last week caught on to the cookout at the massive BrightSource solar facility just south of the Nevada-California border off Interstate 15. The $2.2 billion plant reflects solar rays from more than 300,000 mirrors onto three 40-story, steam-producing boiler towers. But when birds fly into the super-hot reflected rays, they ignite in midair. Workers there call the dead birds “streamers” because of the trail of smoke that charts their fall.

The frequency of bird deaths at the BrightSource plant — thousands per year, by some estimates — has compelled federal investigators to urge California regulators to block the construction of a similar but larger plant.

The Nevada wind farm was supposed to generate enough electricity for about 40,000 homes. Now it will produce less to try to save, what, 100 bats in the middle of nowhere? The BrightSource plant produces enough electricity for 140,000 homes. It won’t be long before environmentalists sue to block the construction of similar plants — and perhaps put new restrictions on the existing California plant.

So we supposedly need renewable energy to save the planet and save species from extinction. But we’ll get less green energy so we can save some of those same species from being killed by renewable technology. That will require more fossil-fuel powered backup generation, which will exacerbate climate change, which ultimately will kill those species anyway.

Are environmentalists just terrible at risk assessment, or are they perpetrating a massive fraud? I’m inclined to say both.

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., convenes his seventh annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas next week, it would be refreshing if he stressed the urgency of a grand green trade-off. “We’re going to have to kill a few animals, bugs, birds and rodents to save the planet,” he could say.

But environmentalists love having it both ways. Expect Reid’s summit to ignore the environmental harms of renewable energy. And that will say it all.

Greens like to think they have all the answers. But if they did, why didn’t they realize their planet-saving power plants would have serious consequences for wildlife and the environment as well? Why should we believe anything they say?

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius is on vacation. His column will return Sept. 3.