Voice of America carried an article on wind, birds and bats recently that unfortunately veered toward the sensational, focusing on lawsuits by environmental groups and failing to provide balance and factual context.
What was missing?
Wind farms are not a major source of bird fatalities. The wind power industry regrets the fact that birds occasionally collide with wind turbines, and strives to minimize such events. However, wind power has modest impacts on wildlife compared to other forms of energy generation and causes of mortality, such as buildings or communication towers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that anywhere from 97 million to 976 million birds are killed by building collisions, 60 million or more may be killed by vehicles, and up to 2 million are killed in oil and wastewater pits. Looking at human-related bird mortality more broadly, the American Bird Conservancy has estimated that half a billion birds a year are killed by domestic and feral cats. The simple fact is that no matter how extensively wind power is developed in the future, it will never be more than a very minor part of human-related bird mortality.
The wind industry does more to study, seek ways to reduce and mitigate its impacts, and cooperate with the Service to address its concerns than any other industry. The wind industry has a long history of proactively collaborating with the environmental community to address impacts and protect wildlife, and has worked with the Service and major wildlife groups such as the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Sierra Club to develop national guidelines for wind farms aimed at reducing their impact on birds. In a press statement issued after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final version of their Wind Energy Guidelines, which the industry participated in developing over a four-year period, David Yarnold, President and CEO of Audubon, commented, “We know America needs more renewable energy and wind power is a key player in that mix. But conservationists can’t have it both ways: we can’t say we need renewable energy and then say there’s nowhere safe to put the wind farms… By collaborating with conservationists instead of slugging it out, the wind power industry gains vital support to expand and create jobs, and wildlife gets the protection crucial for survival. These federal guidelines are a game-changer and big win for both wildlife and clean energy.”
Regarding bats, the wind industry is actively engaged in groundbreaking research to reduce bat collisions at wind farms. It has taken a systematic approach to identifying potential impacts on birds, bats, and other wildlife, and is engaged in initiatives aimed at reducing even the limited impacts we have today.
The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) was formed in 2003 by Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Wind Energy Association, and the U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. BWEC researches the issue of bat interactions at wind energy facilities and is actively investigating several promising techniques that can be used to reduce them, such as acoustic deterrents and potential operational changes. Further, shortly after the emergence of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) as a significant threat to bat populations throughout the eastern states, and potentially North America, the wind industry proactively provided early leadership in funding WNS research to identify causes and possible treatments for the disease, as well as ways to prevent its further spreading to healthy bat populations.
Because wind power displaces other, more polluting forms of energy, its net health and environmental impacts are strongly positive. The combined benefits of wind energy (no air or water pollution or water usage associated with energy production, zero CO2 emissions, etc.) all serve to make wind power far more beneficial to wildlife (and humans!) than other more traditional forms of energy production.
By John Anderson, Director of Siting Policy, http://www.awea.org/blog/