Wind energy impact on birds is minimal

The wind turbines industry has been especially proactive in its efforts to minimize its impact on local and regional wildlife populations — to the best of our knowledge, more so than any other industry on either a voluntary or compulsory basis. As a result, by and large, the wind turbines industry has been very successful in protecting wildlife – bald and golden eagles included – through improved siting practices and expects advancements in this area to further reduce our impacts in the future.

Regarding eagles, based on existing publicly available data, wind energy appears to be responsible for less than 1 percent of human-related eagle fatalities, ranking well below lead poisoning (from eating prey that has been shot by hunters), poisoning in general, illegal shooting, electrocutions on and collisions with power lines (specifically, smaller distribution lines that serve fossil fuel production areas), collisions with vehicles, and even drownings in livestock watering tanks.

The recent Sustainable Business Oregon article by Lee van der Voo, unfortunately, does not accurately demonstrate just how seriously the wind power industry is taking even its relatively low impacts and working proactively and cooperatively with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and conservation community to find ways to further reduce them.

Through the American Wind Wildlife Institute and other organizations such as the Oregon Eagle Foundation, the wind power industry and environmental groups have been funding research designed to better understand eagle population size and dynamics, how eagles behave around turbines, and how to better avoid and mitigate impacts.

Finally, it is especially important to note that the eagle take permit is not a wholesale license to kill birds.

Rather, the intent of the Eagle Permit Rule, established in 2009 under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, is to provide legal protection to an individual or company for the “take” of an eagle that is incidental to and not the purpose of an otherwise lawful action — in the case of wind power, providing a beneficial value to society and the environment through the production of clean energy, which in turn is expected to combat climate change – the single greatest threat to eagle and other wildlife populations. This protection is made available under carefully controlled conditions.

In order to obtain an eagle permit, a wind farm developer or owner/operator cannot simply apply for a permit, but must evaluate the proposed wind project holistically to assess the risk to eagles and then take steps through avoidance and minimization to reduce the potential for take. If the threat of eagle mortality continues to exist after those efforts are made, the developer or operator must compensate for fatalities and ensure that eagles’ overall numbers do not decline. This is a very high standard to achieve and puts significant pressure upon wind farm owner/operators to minimize their impacts to the greatest extent practicable. Further, we view these permitting efforts as a perfect example of how the wind industry is being proactive. In most instances there is no legal requirement that a developer obtain a permit, if not otherwise compelled to through some other regulatory process, and thus developers are free to proceed at their own risk. But the industry is attempting to identify and minimize impacts to wildlife as a result of development and operation of wind energy facilities.

We at AWEA fully expect that the wind industry will continue to work to lessen its already small impacts, but when you step back and look at the facts, it becomes clear that wind energy is the least impactful form of energy production available to our society today and the benefits it provides far outweigh the negligible impacts.

By John Anderson, American Wind Energy Association,