Of all the issues surrounding wind power, the effect of wind turbines on wildlife is one of the most depressing. If we humans want to destroy ourselves, that’s one thing. But to destroy so many other of Nature’s creatures is truly arrogant. Birds and more recently bats have been in the news, but there have been enough reports of all sorts of wildlife abandoning of habitat around wind turbines that I’ve become genuinely concerned we really don’t (again) know what we’re doing.
Returning to bats and birds, my research has led me to two broad conclusions. First, the siting of wind farms is critical if we are to avoid seriously impacting the bird and bat populations. Second, there are many critically important things about bird and bat behavior that we just don’t know very much about. Worse, it seems that the industry and the government aren’t interested in learning.
There are two major effects of wind turbines on birds. The first, and most widely reported, concerns collisions. The second, about which we know precious little, concerns destruction or degrading of habitat.
There’s been a fair amount of press about birds suffering collisions with wind turbines. Most of this was with early designs and with locations that were bird-rich to begin with. Wind turbine proponents would correctly counter that other man-made dangers kill more birds than turbines ever have, and they are certainly correct. To me that misses the more important point, which is that if improperly sited, turbines can disproportionally endanger certain species of birds, some of which are already under significant pressure. In my research one main conclusion stood out: turbines must be appropriately sited to avoid causing unreasonable damage to the general habitat, especially to certain bird and bat populations.
Raptors are often cited as being particularly susceptible to collisions. For years the industry has been claiming the newer turbines don’t kill as many raptors as they used to. Sadly, this claim is probably not correct. There are various anecdotal reports of how wildlife in general has disappeared when a wind farm has gone in. Update – some actual studies are coming in to confirm the anecdotes. Not good news.
At least there is a test bed for some of my fears – Wolfe Island. Wolfe Island is the largest of the famed Thousand Islands, and is right at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. To say it is on a major migration route is to simply point out the obvious. Environment Canada has listed the entire Island as an Important Bird Area. That didn’t stop an 86-turbine project from being built there, which went into operation in mid 2009. Fortunately, the bird populations on Wolfe have been well documented for a number of years, so any effect the turbines have will be difficult to hide. The Kingston Field Naturalists are presently monitoring the population of threatened short-ear owls in an effort to see what effects the turbines have on, in this case, an important raptor.
In the dismal swamp of governmental indifference to the fate of birds and bats every now and then some agency rears up and actually insists upon a serious study before a project is built. For a project in upstate NY in the middle of a major migration route, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided an example (big, 13mb) of what standards an adequate study should meet. Compare this with the paltry oversight of Ontario’s MOE for Wolfe Island. And this is not a U.S. / Canada thing – governments on both sides of the border have shirked their responsibilities to the environment.
Update, June 12, 2010
The first significant bird and bat report from Wolfe Island is in, and it doesn’t look good. I’ve created a new post to discuss it.
The effect of turbines upon bats has received a lot of notice. It seems that certain badly-placed turbines kill large numbers of bats in a particularly gruesome manner, by so quickly sucking the air out of their lungs as they fly by that the lungs fill up with blood. There’s some research (3.0mb) that by raising the cut-in speed a little We demonstrated nightly reductions in bat fatality ranging from 53–87% with marginal annual power loss. It will be interesting to see how the wind companies respond to this research, and to the problem of bat fatalities in general.
Update, June 12, 2010
From Wisconsin there comes this report that notes the bat mortality is so high that extirpation or even extinction is possible.
- Daulton testimony
- Arnett testimony
- Fry testimony
- Wegner – location, location, location, 1.6mb, an excellent guide to how the industry and government are shirking their responsibilities.
- Position Paper from Bird Life International, 0.1mb
- Anderson – bird studies in passes, 0.1mb
- Avian collisions, 2.8mb
- Erickson bird studies, 0.3mb
- Mabey Report, 0.7mb
- Industry brochure, includes bird info, 3.6mb
- Palmer paper, nice distillation of issues, including birds, 0.1mb
- Sagrillo bird study, 0.7mb
- Keil 2005 bird study, 0.1mb
- Offshore bird study