American Bird Conservancy’s Policy Statement on Wind Energy and Bird-Smart Wind Guidelines |
Wind power is the fastest developing source of energy in the United States and can be an important part of the solution to climate change. However, wind farms can kill birds through collisions with turbines and associated structures, and also harm them through the loss of habitat that birds need for survival. A 2008 Department of Energy report calls for the U.S. to generate 20% of its electricity from wind by 2030. By then, wind turbines are expected to be killing at least one million birds each year, and probably significantly more, depending on the final scale of wind build-out. 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 critical to threatened species.
Some of the most iconic and vulnerable American birds are at risk from wind industry expansion unless this expansion is carefully planned and implemented. Onshore, these include Golden Eagles, Whooping Cranes, sage-grouse, prairie-chickens, and many migratory songbirds. Offshore, Brown Pelicans, Northern Gannets, sea ducks, loons, and terns are at risk, among other birds.
American Bird Conservancy supports wind power when it is bird-smart, and believes that birds and wind power can co-exist if the wind industry is held to mandatory standards that protect birds.
Bird-smart wind power employs careful siting, operation and construction mitigation, bird monitoring, and compensation, to reduce and redress any 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. by replanting native vegetation (or restoring the site if the wind farm is decommissioned).
- Monitoring: Bird-smart wind power employs 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 the use of radar to detect local migration patterns), 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 (for example) 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, including deaths caused by collisions with turbines and their associated power lines, and lost or degraded habitat (e.g. areas of abandoned habitat) to a net benefit standard. 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.
Wind Energy Frequently Asked Questions