“Windstalk” Energy and Birds

:“Windstalk” Energy and Birds

“Windstalk” Energy and Birds

2012-03-10T13:50:17+00:00 March 10th, 2012|Uncategorized|7 Comments

I came upon this story on my local birding list this morning. It’s a Discovery News piece about Windstalks — windmill alternatives — designed for the automobile-free, green city of Masdar, outside of Abu Dhabi. Windstalks, conceived by the New York firm Atelier DNA, won second place in the 2010 Land Art Generator competition which rewards art projects that also generate renewable energy. (Click for photos.)

Here’s an excerpt from the project description, from the Atelier DNA website:

“Our project starts out as a desire, a whisper, like grasping at straws, clenching water. Our project takes clues from the way the wind sways a field of wheat, or reeds in a marsh. Our project consists of 1203 stalks, 55 meters high, anchored on the ground with concrete bases that range between 10 to 20 meters in diameter. The stalks are made of carbon fiber reinforced resin poles, 30 cm in diameter at the base and 5 cm at the top. The top 50 cm of the poles are lit up by an LED lamp that glows and dims depending on how much the poles are swaying in the wind. When there is no wind–when the poles are still–the lights go dark.”

The idea and execution is inspired. It evokes the visceral connection I have to cattails and wetlands … and the sound of wind pulsing through the reeds in the hours I sit still with my camera. I couldn’t imagine what project could have beat out this one for Winner #1, but I had to check it out. It turns out #1 was the Lunar Cubit. Modeled after the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Cubit is a solar-power generator that honors the moon phases in design and nightly illuminations. (A 2010 New York Times piece discusses the concept of Land Art Generator in more detail.)

This video shows the concept of Masdar City, designed with low environmental impact and ecological harmony in mind:

My interest in Windstalks, in particular, relates to birds and injury reduction. During my early years at the wildlife hospital, I accessioned my first windmill victim … an eagle with a severed wing. This bird was collected at

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  1. Mia McPherson March 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    I know I’d much rather see Windstalks than the wind farms I see now. Every time I see those huge propellers I think of the birds that die because of them. I really like this more passive form of energy collection.

    • ingrid March 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      I agree, Mia. When you think of Altamont Pass in my home of Northern California — building the windmill field in a raptor migration corridor — the logic of that is lost on me. Of course, it was built early on, without the more stringent environmental assessments we go through today. Still, that eagle we accessioned at the hospital, with the severed wing, was a heartbreaking reminder of what occurs when birds meet windmills.

  2. Mia McPherson March 13, 2012 at 7:34 am - Reply

    I think even more stringent guidelines should be in place than what we have today. The birds belong here as much as we do.

    • ingrid March 13, 2012 at 11:20 am - Reply

      You’re right, Mia. I always think the same thing when I watch glass skyscrapers going up. At least there is some awareness of bird-safe building design now, but not enough implementation. When you see what it takes to rehabilitate one songbird with brain swelling from a window strike, it puts those other millions in perspective. With respect to wind power, some of these old windmills could also be updated with newer, less damaging blades, but it’s not done. My position, sometimes unpopular, is that our existence and technology alone is damaging enough to wildlife. I wish we could just leave them alone in every other respect. I think that’s why I also hit a breaking point when it comes to field ethics.

  3. Val March 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm - Reply

    What’s never thought about with any of these schemes that are built on land is the total effect on wildlife in the area, not just from individual structures, like wind turbines, or windstalks, but from the associated effects of construction over time, and the cables, etc, that have to carry the electricity from the turbines (usually via pylons, just like conventional electricity) across thousands of miles of land. To get all that in place, land has to be dug up – often including peat bogs that are destroyed in the process, trees (often forests) destroyed, road cut out of otherwise perfectly good land that would otherwise support plant life needed by animals and birds. Then they have to be set in place with concrete. The work for each project – the whole project I mean – can go on for years, not just weeks or months. The whole process is disruptive to the ecosystem. It might very well recover eventually, but at what cost? All these so-called alternatives are not much better that what we already have and what is at the root of it all? Putting ourselves, as humans, above any other species.

    Sorry for the rant, but I’m living in an area of Wales that, along with the neighbouring county (in England) is facing years and years of upheaval like that from proposed building of wind-powered substations, pylons and turbines. We should instead be looking at non-invasive alternative method of energy rather than wrecking nature. I can’t see that windstalks would be any better for birds than wind turbines. They are big, they are invasive, they are unnatural.

    • ingrid March 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm - Reply

      Val, I understand and agree with your sentiments. As one U.S. example, there’s been significant controversy over a new wind installation on the east coast, the Cape Wind wind farm off Cape Cod. Every such installation involves, as you say, so much more than just the windmills themselves. In your area, where the upheaval is obviously dramatic, are there any other solutions being proposed that look viable?

      My perspective, not popular with everyone, is that we’ll never rectify our ecological issues without seriously addressing population matters. When I consider that the global population when I was born was around 3 billion … now approaching 7 billion and growing exponentially, I fear for any future for our wild lands and wildlife when you consider what our consumption looks like.

  4. Val March 15, 2012 at 6:47 am - Reply

    “are there any other solutions being proposed that look viable?”

    No, none, apart from a rather insipid notion of putting the cables underground. They won’t consider that as they regard it too expensive.

    I have a very similar opinion to you, about population, Ingrid. The only thing about that is, to reduce population we then, as humans, have to go against our own animal instincts – the instinctive, biological need to procreate. So, it’s a very difficult problem. On the one hand you’ve got animals with brains that are unmanageably too high-powered (humans), and on the other the rest of nature that is just trying to get on with life the best way it can.

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