Wind Energy Frequently Asked Questions |
What Is American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) policy regarding wind energy?
Wind power can be an important part of the solution to global warming, but wind farms can also kill birds—including eagles, songbirds, and endangered species—through collisions with turbines, and also harm them through loss of habitat. By 2030, there will likely be more than 100,000 wind turbines in the U.S., and these are expected to kill at least one million birds each year—probably significantly more. Wind farms are also expected to impact almost 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat, and over 4,000 square miles of marine habitat by 2030, some of it critical to threatened species.
To be a truly green source of energy, wind power needs to be Bird-smart and that means wind power employs careful siting, operation and construction mitigation, monitoring, and compensation to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss from wind energy development. These are issues that should be included in mandatory federal wind standards. All wind farms should employ bird-smart principles and comply with relevant state and federal wildlife protection laws.
What is bird-smart wind energy?
Bird-smart wind power implements careful siting considerations, operation and construction mitigation, bird monitoring, and compensation to reduce and redress unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss. These are issues that the federal government should include in mandatory wind standards. For terrestrial wind farms, bird-smart wind should address:
- Siting: Bird-smart wind power (including wind farms and associated infrastructure) is sited to prevent harm to birds, ideally in already altered habitats such as farmland, and avoids sensitive areas. Examples of such areas may include migratory bottlenecks, wetlands, raptor concentration and key nesting areas, the edges of ridges used by migrants, key habitat or flight paths for endangered or declining species, breeding concentrations of species that avoid tall structures (such as some grouse species), and in or adjacent to Important Bird Areas. Maps with detailed data on wildlife are currently being developed by conservation groups for use by the wind industry. Pre-construction assessments should always be conducted to confirm whether a particular site presents an especially high risk to birds. Some areas are not going to be suitable for wind development.
- Operation and Construction Mitigation: Bird-smart wind power uses the best technology and management practices to avoid and minimize harm to birds, such as by burying transmission lines in high risk areas, following Avian Power Line Interaction Committee standards for above-ground transmission lines, using lighting that minimizes nighttime migratory bird collision mortality (such as strobe lights), using unguyed rather than guyed meteorological towers, and restoring habitat disturbed by construction, e.g., re-compacting soils disturbed by construction and replanting native vegetation (or restoring the site if the wind farm is decommissioned).
- Monitoring: Bird-smart wind power conducts effective, federally reviewed and approved, site-specific, pre- and post-construction studies/assessments to assist with improved siting and operation, and to properly quantify impacts. Pre-construction assessments must provide sufficient data to assist with micro-siting (e.g., by use of radar to detect local bird movements), create an annual baseline against which post-construction studies can be evaluated, use all existing available bird study data, and be conducted during months when bird use can be expected to be at its peak at the selected site. Post-construction studies must employ mathematical models that best account for variations in local conditions and the relative difficulty of locating bird carcasses in different habitats, as well as any scavenging by predators that may reduce the number of carcasses found, and run for at least two years (and long enough to determine the efficacy of, and make needed revisions to, operational mitigation measures).
- Compensation: Bird-smart wind power redresses the loss of any birds or habitat unavoidably harmed by construction and operation to a net benefit standard. This includes bird deaths caused by collisions with turbines and their associated power lines, and lost or degraded habitat (e.g., areas of abandoned habitat) Such compensation could include acquiring additional land for the National Wildlife Refuge system or other off-site habitat conservation projects.
Although offshore wind power is not yet operational in the U.S., an analogous set of siting, operating, and compensatory measures need to be developed to make it bird-smart.
All wind farms should have an Avian Protection Plan which includes American Bird Conservancy’s bird-smart principles, and a means of implementing them and tracking and reporting on this implementation. Wind farms should also comply with relevant state and federal wildlife protection laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act.
How would you know if a potential wind farm site will have large or small impacts to birds?
See section above on pre-construction monitoring and post-construction monitoring.
Isn’t the Federal Government developing wind energy regulations?
No, the Federal Government has released draft, voluntary wind-energy guidelines that were produced from recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior by a Federal Advisory Committee. During the public comment period on those proposed voluntary guidelines, ABC will urge that that the Department of the Interior enact mandatory standards that the industry must follow. We do not believe that energy industries should be able to choose whether or not to consider bird impacts.
A recent lawsuit regarding the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in California illustrates that getting the right thing done voluntarily is anything but a sure thing. Recent studies say that approximately 7,600-9,300 birds were killed there each year, including 55-94 Golden Eagles, 475-477 American Kestrels, 253-433 Red-tailed Hawks, and 714-718 Burrowing Owls. After seven years of being challenged by various conservation groups, it finally took a lawsuit to get changes made at Altamont Pass. NextEra Energy Resources has only recently agreed to replace 2,400 of its old wind turbines at Altamont Pass with fewer, larger models that produce the same amount of total power. They also agreed to place the new turbines in “more environmentally friendly” locations, and to pay $2.5 million for research and raptor habitat improvement.
What kinds of birds are impacted by wind farms?
Potentially all night-migrating songbirds are at risk of colliding with wind turbines, as are raptors and other birds when wind farms are sited in areas they frequent. Habitat loss is also an issue as wind farms can degrade bird habitat or cause birds to abandon habitat.
Golden Eagles will be especially impacted because much of the additional wind build-out planned for the western U.S. is expected to occur in areas they inhabit. The endangered Whooping Crane will be exposed to additional risk from collision with new power lines erected to service wind farms along their migratory pathways.
To a Greater Sage-Grouse and some other birds, any tall structure such as a wind turbine is a threat because it is a potential perch for a predatory bird. A wind turbine standing a considerable distance away has much the same effect as a small tree at a few hundred yards, causing sage-grouse to abandon traditional lekking grounds up to three miles away from a wind farm. Unfortunately for the Sage-Grouse, Wyoming, one of this bird’s last remaining strongholds, is slated for significant wind farm build-out. It is very important for the future of the Greater Sage-Grouse that this development is appropriately sited
How many birds are killed by wind farms each year?
No one knows for sure. Recent estimates of the number of birds killed by wind turbines ranges from a low of 100,000 birds/year to 440,000 birds/year (calculated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). If 20% of the nation’s electricity comes from wind power by 2030, ABC estimates that at least one million birds per year will be killed by wind turbines, probably significantly more.
Aren’t there laws that protect birds from being killed by wind farms?
Whooping Cranes and some other birds are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Golden Eagles are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BAGEPA), and most migratory birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Unfortunately, both the BAGEPA and MBTA are not currently sufficiently enforced to prevent predicted mortality resulting from wind development. However, in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to begin issuing permits for wind farms that expect to kill Golden Eagles, contingent on the wind farms taking tangible steps to protect eagles. The Greater Sage-Grouse, meanwhile, currently receives no federal legal protection, though several states have stepped up to protect remaining core breeding areas.
Read full ABC Policy Statement on Wind Energy