Environment

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Lisa Poole/AP
The Liberty Clipper schooner, of Boston, sails past the Boston skyline

No Lights Policy Saves Energy and Birds

March 10, 2009 12:27 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
In Bloomington, Minn., an office building is taking steps to save birds' lives by turning off all lights between midnight and dawn.

Minnesota Office Building Takes Boston's Lead

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A HealthPartners building will adopt the no-lights policy during birds' spring and fall migration seasons. The bodies of dead songbirds have been appearing more frequently around the building, prompting the decision, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Once birds have been drawn toward commercial lighting, they "end up circling in the glow, having difficulty finding the way out." This often causes birds to collide with buildings or drop from exhaustion.

Boston has undertaken a similar, but larger-scale, two-month initiative to conserve electricity by shutting off lights at 34 city skyscrapers between the Back Bay and South Boston waterfront, including the well-known Hancock building and Prudential Tower. According to The Boston Globe, nearly 25 percent of light energy will be saved thanks to the program.

HealthPartners' move is expected to both save energy and protect birds, but the same can't be said for another energy-efficient tactic, wind turbines, according to some opponents.

Despite being the "fastest-growing form of renewable energy" in the United States, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, giant wind turbines have killed thousands of birds, including golden eagles. Experts differ on the exact causes of bird deaths, citing electrocution, natural predators and number of windmills as factors in addition to "birds running into spinning blades."

The issue is complicating matters for President Obama. In late January, Andrew Miga of the Associated Press reported that the President's initial "enthusiasm" for wind energy is being challenged, particularly with regards to a Massachusetts plan to build "130 giant turbines across 25 miles of federal waters in Nantucket Sound." The plan has long been vehemently opposed by Obama-backer Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who contends that the project will "kill birds and endanger sea life while imperiling the scenic area's tourism and fishing industries," but is supported by Obama friend and speechwriter, Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick.

Background: Cities shunning lights

Boston's plan will not only aid energy conservation efforts and perhaps improve migratory conditions for birds, but could also help reduce light pollution, a problem concerning astronomers around the world, says the Astronomical Society of South Australia.

But Boston is not the first city to try cutting back on lighting. A program called Earth Hour began in Sydney, where 2,100 businesses turned off their lights for one hour on March 31, 2007. In 2008, the movement spread globally.

In October 2007, Los Angeles tried an hour with no lights, which was expected to save 15 percent of typical daily energy, and potentially enough power to support 2,500 homes for a full year.

Madison, Wisc., joined the movement in March 2008, when residents were asked to turn off their lights for one Saturday evening. Local leaders expressed hope that the program would encourage people to be aware of their energy use throughout the year.

Related Topic: Other conservation efforts

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