Effects of Windpower on Wildlife

The last article focused on how wind power works and its potential as a clean energy source.   While it produces no emissions,  there is some environmental disturbance during installation of tubines.   In addition, they have also been known to kill birds and bats.   This article will address the environmental concerns of wind power.

While wind power is cleaner than fossil fuels,  it can still have negative effects on wildlife.   The American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) compiles research on interactions betwen wind energy and wildlife.  In May 2018, they issued a report, Wind Turbine Interaction with Wildlife and Their Habitat:  A Summary of of Research and Priority Questions.   According to their report, adjusted fatality for birds ranges from 3-6 birds per MW per year for all species.  The report also said that bat fatalities may be higher than bird deaths in the upper Midwest and eastern forests.   Two facilities in the Appalachian Region reported fatalities greater than 30 bats per MW per year.  However, other reports had bat deaths as low as 1-2 per MW per year.  In addition, sometimes being near turbines can be an issue as well.   Jeff Parsons, a Conservation Biologist for Arrowwood Environmental, said that bat lungs can collapse or explode as a result of changes in air pressure when they are in close proximity to turbines.   Arrowwood Environmental does studies on the environmental impact of energy projects and is based in Huntington, VT.


While the study stated that there had been fatalities for all species, it also said that diurnal raptors were relatively frequent fatalities, particularly in the western U. S., where they were more common.  It also noted that the foraging behavior of some species, such as the redtailed hawk, may take them into close proximity of turbines.  Parsons  said that golden eagle deaths were particularly high in California, though he also said towers were put in without looking at the environmental impact.   Margaret Fowle, a Conservation Biologist for VT Audodon, said bird deaths seemed to be higher out West and mortality can be higher during migration times.  The AAI report also  said bat deaths tend to peak in late summer and early fall during migration times.

Generally, birds and bats are considered to be the species most affected by wind turbines.    However, other species can also impacted.   Parsons said that acorns and beech nuts were important food for black bears and turbines shouldn’t be put  near oak and beech trees.  He also said American martens don’t like forest  fragmented by roads and cited one project in Island Pond, VT that was dropped as a result.

Placement of turbines can have a lot to do with avoiding wildlife conflicts.  Parsons said impacts on species depended on where turbines were sited and they should not be put in endanged or threatened species habitat or along migration routes.  Fowle concurred, stating renewable energy should be “encouraged” if facilities were “properly sited, had proper management, and it was possible to turn them off during  migration periods.”

While concerns with wildlife need to be taken seriously,  fossil fuels also pose a serious environmental risk.   The third and final article is this series will look at how wind power compares to other energy sources.



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