Wind Energy and Wildlife
Wind Industry Takes Proactive Approach
While wind energy is a clean, inexhaustible, homegrown source of energy that is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity, as it emits no pollution, creates no hazardous waste, and uses virtually no water, it is important to keep in mind that no form of energy generation, or human activity for that matter, is free from impacts and that in order to maintain the industry’s coveted “green” branding, we must continually seek cost-effective measures to reduce these already low impacts. And the best way to accomplish this is through improved siting and operational practices.
Wildlife collisions and habitat effects are the primary impacts associated with wind projects. The wind industry approaches wildlife issues proactively and is confident that ways can be found for wind power and wildlife to coexist successfully. In order to achieve these goals the industry has taken a systematic approach to identify potential impacts on birds, bats and other wildlife, and is engaged in initiatives aimed at reducing, if not eliminating, those impacts. These efforts are described below.
New guidelines for siting wind power projects
In March 2012 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final version of the Voluntary Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines (found here). The release of this document represents the culmination of over 5 years of a painstaking, but collaborative, process between representatives of the wind energy industry, conservation community, USFWS, states, and tribes.
These Guidelines represent a reasonable balance between the compatible goals of deploying wind energy and the need to protect wildlife and address wind energy’s comparatively small impacts. These actions in turn hold this industry to a higher standard for wildlife protection than is legally required and is more than is expected of any other energy industry in the country. It is AWEA’s sincere hope that through proper implementation we will be able to collectively ensure that wildlife are being adequately protected, while creating an environment where robust development of wind energy will continue to occur across our nation for years to come.
Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative
In 2003, studies at a project in West Virginia discovered a higher than expected number of dead bats. Since then, similarly high fatality rates have been documented at other locations. More recently, concerns have been raised about the impact of wind projects on the Indiana bat, an endangered species found in a wide area of the central Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Out of concern over these observations, in 2003, Bat Conservation International (BCI), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, AWEA, and the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) formed the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC). BWEC is actively investigating several promising techniques that can be used to reduce impacts at wind farms, such as operational changes and deterrent devices. The wind industry is also helping to fund research into White-Nose Syndrome, a disease that has devastated cave-dwelling bats in the Northeast.
American Wind Wildlife Institute
The American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) was founded in December 2007 by 20 top science-based conservation and environmental groups and wind companies. AWWI’s mission is to facilitate timely and responsible development of wind power while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat. It does this through research, mapping, mitigation, and public education on best practices in wind project siting and wildlife habitat protection. AWEA is a strong supporter of the Institute and AWEA and several member companies were instrumental in its founding.
National Wind Coordinating Collaborative
In 1994, shortly after raptor deaths in the Altamont Pass became a general concern, the wind energy industry joined with government officials, environmental groups, and utilities to form the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC), aimed at addressing the avian issue as well as others affecting the industry's future. NWCC has sponsored meetings and academic papers to further understanding of wind energy’s wildlife impacts, and provides updates to the environmental community about the latest wind-related research, along with events related to the biological significance of wind’s impacts. It also has sponsored a wind project permitting handbook. More information is available at http://www.nationalwind.org.
Birds and wind turbines
While birds do collide with wind turbines at some sites, modern wind power plants are collectively far less harmful to birds than are radio towers, tall buildings, airplanes, vehicles and numerous other manmade objects. The National Academy of Sciences estimated in 2006 that wind power is responsible for less than 0.003% (3 of every 100,000) of bird deaths caused by humans and pets.
The wind power industry is stepping up and taking responsibility for its effect on eagles. Industry representatives have been working diligently with the USFWS and conservation community to find better ways to reduce impacts on eagles. Through the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) and other initiatives, the industry and environmental groups have been funding research designed to better understanding eagle population size and dynamics, how eagles behave around turbines, and how to better avoid and mitigate impacts. Most recently, AWWI sponsored a multi-stakeholder research meeting in November 2011 to identify gaps in existing knowledge about eagles and set research priorities. Additional work to better understand the status of eagles, the risk associated with wind energy development, and how to mitigate impacts will continue in the coming year.
Various types of development in the Western U.S. are threatening the sage grouse, but so far no evidence has shown that wind projects pose a specific threat. In 2010, Interior Secretary Salazar said the bird deserves to be added to the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Due to a backlog of higher priority species, he took no action, leaving regulation to the states. However, in July 2011, the Center for Biological Diversity struck a legal settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requiring the agency to make initial or final decisions on whether to add hundreds of plants and animals to the endangered species list by 2018. Under that agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose sage grouse for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2015 and finalize the decision in 2016 if warranted.
Through the efforts of the Sage-Grouse Research Collaborative, formed under the NWCC Wildlife Workgroup’s Grassland and Shrub Steppe Species Subgroup (GS3), which includes representatives from academia, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and wind developers, the industry and its partners seek to better understand the impacts to sage grouse associated with wind energy development and operational activities and develop management strategies designed to reduce these impacts.
In 2009, the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) awarded over $1 million to Oklahoma to help the wind industry develop a regional Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to protect several species including the whooping crane and lesser prairie chicken. The USFWS said this HCP is the first to take note of renewable energy and climate change issues while also protecting imperiled species. The wind industry, which is developing the HCP and assisting in the funding of the project, believes the development of this comprehensive conservation plan will not only allow for continued robust wind energy development throughout the Great Plains but also provide needed and essential benefits to the covered species. The whooping crane is listed as endangered and the lesser prairie chicken is being considered for protection.
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Last Updated May 2012