“The wind industry has made great strides in reducing and mitigating its impact on wildlife thanks to better research, technological advances, and lessons learned in siting." ~Union of Concerned Scientists
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), “Accelerated climate change is the single biggest threat to wildlife. It is impacting all ecosystems, habitats, and species – not just those identified as imperiled.” Wildlife also faces many other threats resulting from human activities, such as pollution and loss and degradation of habitat. These threats can often be compounded by the impacts of climate change.
As a fuel-free, inexhaustible, domestic and readily available source of energy, wind power has an important role to play in addressing climate change and in improving environmental conditions for wildlife. Even so, since wind energy projects are often located in rural, unpopulated areas of the United States where wildlife is also found, some impact is unavoidable. Bird and bat collisions and direct and indirect habitat effects are the primary impacts associated with wind projects.
For example, a recent National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC) review of peer-reviewed research found evidence of bird and bat deaths from collisions, as well as habitat loss or disruption (NWCC 2010). Bats can perhaps also be killed by barotrauma, a phenomenon that may be caused by rapid pressure changes as they fly through the area where the blades turn. The research surveyed by the NWCC concluded that the impact on birds is relatively low at the vast majority of locations and does not pose a threat to species populations. Bat fatalities remain a concern because they are higher than levels observed for birds and little is known about the population status of bats. For example, biologists investigating bat behavior noted that bats are most active when wind speeds are low and insects are most abundant. The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative found that feathering turbine blades during times of low wind speeds reduces bat deaths by more than half with minor losses of power production. Research is continuing on this promising minimization technique (Arnett et al. 2010).
To advance practical solutions and to tackle challenges at scale, members of the wind industry, leading national conservation nonprofits, and state wildlife agencies are working together through the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI). AWWI's unique partnership structure offers a forum for forging wind-wildlife solutions that are grounded in science. AWWI’s research, based on peer review, focuses on priority issues with immediate and practical applications in the field. AWWI develops and disseminates significant advances in mitigation, risk assessment, and other tools to help wind developers site and operate wind farms that will have minimal impacts on wildlife. New developments reach conservation, industry, government, academic and other stakeholders, as well as the public, through AWWI’s partnerships and through AWWI’s facilitation of the NWCC.
In addition, in March 2012 the FWS published voluntary guidelines for land-based wind energy projects. As stated by FWS, "As the Nation shifts to renewable energy production to supplant the needs for carbon-based fuel, wind energy will be an important source of power. As wind energy production increases, both developers and wildlife agencies have recognized the need for a system to evaluate and address the potential negative impacts on species of concern.” The voluntary guidelines, which were developed by the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee, provide “a structured, scientific process for addressing wildlife conservation concerns at all stages of land-based wind energy development…and form the best practical approach for conserving species of concern.”