Making wind power less deadly for birds
Rhett A. Butler,
December 15, 2005

High oil prices and concern over climate change are driving interest in renewable energy technologies. All types of potential power sources -- not limited to the sun, ocean tides and waves, raw sewage, and even insects -- are the focus of media reports, while governments and industry scramble to announce their grand plans for adopting green energy.

Lately some questions have been raised over the true environmental impact of some of these energy sources. Environmental groups have recently criticized the clearing of natural forests in southeast Asia and Brazil for oil palm plantations and soybean farms that may used in the production of biomass-based fuels. Similarly, some environmental groups are worried that wind power -- one of the most promising sectors for immediate renewable energy production -- is responsible for deaths of migratory birds.

According to a recent review of literature, wind generation facilities kill 10,000 - 40,000 birds a year. While these figures are minuscule in comparison to the numbers of birds killed by windows, power lines, vehicles, and communication towers, they are still significant to be of concern to some groups, especially in areas where charismatic birds of prey are the victims. In California, environmentalists have sued turbine owners to take protective measures which eat into their bottom lines and are of questionable effectiveness.

A Canadian firm has taken a different approach to harnessing wind power, one that potentially reduces associated bird mortality while addressing some of the other shortcomings of traditional wind turbines.

The tethered, lighter-than-air wind power device devised by Magenn Power Inc. of Ottawa, Canada. Image courtesy of Magenn Power.

The Magenn Power Air Rotor System. Conventional wind generators are only operable in wind speeds between 3 meters/sec and 28 meters/sec. Magenn Air Rotors are operable between 1 meter/sec and in excess of 28 meters/sec.

Instead of giant wind turbines -- which average over 250 feet (80 meters) in diameter -- Magenn Power Inc. uses a tethered lighter-than-air device that rotates about a horizontal axis in response to wind. The Ottawa-based firm says that its Magenn Power Air Rotor System (MARS) efficiently generates clean renewable electrical energy at a lower cost than other wind turbine systems while potentially reducing mortality of birds and bats. Further, because the helium powered units float at altitudes from 400-ft to 1,000-ft (125-310 m) above ground level they can capture the stronger winds than conventional wind turbines.

For grid or off-grid use, Magenn Power's "Floating Wind Generators" could be ideal says Mac Brown, CEO of Magenn Power. Images courtesy of Magenn Power.
The units are also mobile, meaning they can be easily moved to different locations to correspond to changing wind patterns or placed closer to demand centers, thus reducing transmission line costs and transmission line loses. Mobility is also useful in emergency deployment and disaster relief situations where small to medium sized systems could be air-dropped for emergency electrical power. Magenn says that a backpack version could even be deployed by a hiker, motorist, boater, or solider.

For more on Magenn Power's system, check out

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Rhett A. Butler, (December 15, 2005).

Making wind power less deadly for birds.