Groups look at effects of wind farms on the environment
From press release
RACINE, Wis.—Thirty top wildlife scientists have announced agreement on some of the highest research priorities to help America’s rapidly-growing wind energy industry produce much-needed alternative energy—while also providing safe passage for birds and bats.
This coalition of scientists from industry, government, nongovernmental organizations, and universities met recently in Racine, Wis., to address unanswered questions about how continued wind energy development will affect migrating birds and bats. The meeting was hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the American Bird Conservancy, and The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread.
“We see great potential in wind energy for addressing global climate change and reducing America’s reliance on fossil fuels,” said Dr. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy. “It’s critical we act now to understand the interactions between wind energy installations and birds and bats.”
Dr. Andrew Farnsworth of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology said: “Billions of birds migrate annually, taking advantage of the same wind currents that are most beneficial for producing wind energy. We know that in some locations a small percentage of wind turbines may cause the majority of bird and bat deaths. For example, Altamont Pass, east of Oakland, Calif., is an extreme case: in an area used regularly by migrant and resident raptors, only a fraction of the 5,000 turbines are responsible for most of the raptor deaths annually. As wind power develops further, we need to know more about how placement, design and operation impact birds and bats as well as how habitat and weather conditions affect potential hazards.”
The scientists addressed some of the critical information that could be collected using cutting-edge tools such as weather surveillance radar, thermal imaging and microphones directed skyward to map migrations by day and night. New research will build upon monitoring and research studies of birds and bats before and after construction of existing wind energy facilities as well as work done by other researchers. The coalition appointed working groups to move this new research agenda forward. Top research priorities identified by the coalition include:
• Studying bird and bat behaviors, and more accurately estimating mortality at existing wind turbines;
• Using current and newly-obtained information about bird and bat population numbers and distribution to focus research on critically important migratory routes and timing;
• Documenting how interactions of birds and bats with turbines are affected by factors such as weather, topography and their distribution within airspace swept by wind turbine blades;
• Establish standardized methods for pre- and post-construction studies for assessing bird and bat behavior at wind facilities; and
• Conduct research on best practices for mitigating the impacts of wind energy development on birds and bats.
Dr. John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said: “Conducting this research will help the wind industry make informed, science-based decisions about where future wind energy projects can be built, and how they can be operated to minimize the impact on migrating wildlife, while still providing much-needed alternative energy. It will also help flesh out specific guidelines for wind farm construction being developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Kraig Butrum, president and CEO of the American Wind Wildlife Institute, an umbrella organization for the wind energy industry and environmental groups, said: “Imagine if a similar effort had taken place at the turn of the 20th century with the auto industry and air quality. We’d probably be in a completely different place when it comes to global climate change and energy dependence, because we considered environmental impact from the start.”
From the September 16-22, 2009 issue.
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