The number of wind power plants is growing
very fast in Japan. There were 105 windmills
across Japan in 1998 generating 35,500kw
of electricity, but the number soared to
735 in 2003 generating 680,000kw. As the
government is planning to generate 3,000,000kw
by wind by 2010 the construction of windmills
is thriving. However, in 2004 several White-tailed
Eagles, which are designated special naturals
monument and are an endangered species, were
found dead near some wind farms in Hokkaido.
Given that they are believed to have died
from collision with the wind turbines, we
should assess whether wind power generation
is the best source of energy.
Windmills are clean with almost no toxic waste produced. Unlike nuclear power plants, which are potential sources of radioactive contamination, they are not dangerous. Furthermore, they release no carbon dioxide, which causes global warming. In addition, they are more environmentally friendly than hydropower plants, which bring havoc to aquatic ecosystems. Above all, wind is inexhaustible.
On the other hand, windmills have some defects such as spoiling the landscape with their bristling propellers set on long poles and creating noise from the turning blades. Above all, the most serious environmental drawback to windmills is bird and bat strikes.
In the 1970s some US wind farms caused a considerable number of bird deaths, raising concerns about their impact on wildlife. Gradually the death toll has increased with the development of wind farm plants. Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California, which holds 5,000 windmills, causes an estimated 1,700 to 4,700 bird fatalities including 880 to 1,300 federally protected raptors every year. For their part, bats seem to be a lot more vulnerable to wind turbines than birds. A survey of 44 turbines at West Virginia's Mountaineer Project, one of the largest wind-energy sites in eastern North America, shows that an estimated 2,092 bats of seven species had been killed every week in 2003. The total number of bat fatalities in the year was estimated to approach 4000.
The recent sharp increase in the number of windmills in Japan is beginning to take its toll on birds. Their impact on the Japanese bat population is unknown because of insufficient data, but urgent inquiries are necessary. What is a matter of more concern is the largest wind power plant ever in Japan is being built at Cape Soya, which is the major migratory route of birds from Siberia.
Although there is no perfect source of power, windmill has many virtues and is one of the most useful energy. With the extensive assessment of their impact on wildlife, locations should be carefully selected. It goes without saying that engineering such as lighting up the blades or emitting sounds that are annoying to wildlife should be developed to minimize the collision with wildlife. Every effort should be made to save the lives of the little avian Don Quixotes.