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Green Energy’s Cost: California’s Wildlife Pay the Price

Green Energy’s Cost: California’s Wildlife Pay the Price

Birds fly past wind turbines in a 2010 photo. (Johannes Elsele/AFP via Getty Images)

Sophie LiSiyamak Khorrami

Sophie Li & Siyamak Khorrami

8/12/2023

Updated: 10/19/2023

As the Golden State accelerates its transition to green energy at full throttle, some—including a former official of the California Fish and Wildlife Department—are expressing apprehension about the potential consequences for the state.
California has set an ambitious goal of reaching 100 percent carbon neutrality by 2045 following the passage of Senate Bill 100 in 2018. According to the California Energy Commission, nearly 35 percent of the in-state energy generation was renewable as of 2021.
John Baker, who retired as an assistant chief with the department after a career of more than 30 years, said that although the push for green energy is aimed at saving the planet from climate change, it comes at the expense of endangering groups of wild animals, especially birds.
“In the name of green energy, we’re sacrificing wildlife species. Because of the power mandates, we’re unable to enforce [protecting those species,]” he said in a recent episode of EpochTV’s California Insider. “I don’t think they have thought what that cost is to us as Californians and to the environment as a whole.”
According to Mr. Baker, the intense focus on green energy, often seen as the “greater concern,” tends to blind people, especially politicians, to the consequences it brings for animals.
He said one group of wildlife greatly affected by such green policy is predatory birds—such as eagles, hawks, and falcons—as many are killed by wind turbines.
Bald eagles at Wyoming's Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. (Tom Koerner/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Bald eagles at Wyoming's Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. (Tom Koerner/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Mr. Baker noted that although fatalities of predatory birds seemed few among all birds killed by turbines, the numbers are significant because they reproduce slowly.
“There are millions of finches out there, but there are not millions of golden eagles out there,” he said.
According to a 2021 article by Joel Merriman, a former wind energy campaign director for the American Bird Conservancy, about 681,000 birds are killed in the United States each year by wind turbines.
And the number could be higher.
According to Mr. Merriman, who used data from 2012 through 2014 in his analysis, an underestimate is possible because of limited monitoring, challenges in locating dead birds in inaccessible areas, and many other factors.
A dead bird near a windmill. (Courtesy of John Baker)

A dead bird near a windmill. (Courtesy of John Baker)

Another major green energy generator—solar farms—has also been reportedly causing deaths among birds and other kinds of animals.
In recent years, California’s deserts have undergone a transformation into a sea of solar panels, causing many birds to mistakenly perceive the shining panels as pools of water, crashing to their death as they attempt to dive into them.
Extreme heat from the panels’ reflective material can incinerate birds that fly too close.
Solar farms have also caused other land species, such as desert tortoises and bighorn sheep, to lose their habitat and migration corridor, according to Basin and Range Watch, a nonprofit desert conservation organization.
Although killing or harming birds such as bald eagles can result in serious consequences and even criminal charges, wind energy operators aren’t often held accountable for the loss of wildlife they cause, according to Mr. Baker.
A solar panel range in what was once a field used for agriculture, in California's drought-stricken Central Valley near Huron, Calif., on July 23, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

A solar panel range in what was once a field used for agriculture, in California's drought-stricken Central Valley near Huron, Calif., on July 23, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

“It really runs counter to the whole environmental argument and what I signed up to do when I originally started working for [the] fish and wildlife [department],” he said.
On top of that, Mr. Baker said, birds are being compelled to alter their migration routes by the proliferation of turbines.
And preferential treatment for clean energy is evident during the lawmaking process, he said.
“In the political world, if you’re not telling them what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, or how they want to hear it, they‘ll cut the siphon or they’ll cut the money off—the spigot gets turned off,” Mr. Baker said.
As a result, he said, scientists are shifting their focus more and more toward the wild animals’ relation with climate change to fit a narrative, and they sometimes neglect the well-being of individual species.
“There’s a subtle difference here,” Mr. Baker said. “Because there’s a challenge for a scientist to continue to get funding and to tell the truth, if the truth that you’re telling is not what the people giving you the funding want to hear. I’ve seen projects and ideas be shut down at the managerial level because they know that they’re not going to be able to sell that to the people that do the funding.”
But some local agencies have found ways to work around such situations, he said.
John Baker, retired assistant chief of the California Fish and Wildlife Department, in Irvine, Calif. (The Epoch Times)

John Baker, retired assistant chief of the California Fish and Wildlife Department, in Irvine, Calif. (The Epoch Times)

In 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Department, where Mr. Baker worked, and several other agencies conducted an operation targeting illegal marijuana-growing operations in Tulare and Fresno counties.
What got their attention was that growers were discharging wastewater mixed with harmful pesticides polluting the surrounding environment and seriously affecting animals.
“Somebody would harvest a deer, and they would open it up and [it would] be as blue as your suit inside. And that’s because it was eating rodenticide,” he said.
However, had they addressed their concern over saving the deer, they couldn’t get the attention of the lawmakers, according to Mr. Baker. But because they connected the issue with the environmental crime that the illegal marijuana growers were practicing—which was the state legislature’s focus at the time—they were able to get more funding from the state government to carry out their operations.
“I mourn the loss of really focusing on protecting the watersheds and things of that nature,” he said.
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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

Author

Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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Siyamak Khorrami

Siyamak Khorrami

Author

Siyamak Khorrami has been the general manager and chief editor of the Southern California edition of The Epoch Times since 2017. He is also the host of the “California Insider” show, which showcases leaders and professionals across the state with inside information about trending topics and critical issues in California.

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