Wind energy that’s for the birds

CORNELL (US)—An effort is under way to ensure that birds and bats are not the unintended victims of an expanding wind energy industry.

“Billions of birds migrate annually, taking advantage of the same wind currents that are most beneficial for producing wind energy,” says Andrew Farnsworth, a postdoctoral research associate at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.

“We know that in some locations a small percentage of wind turbines may cause the majority of bird and bat deaths. 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.”

At a meeting hosted by Cornell, the American Bird Conservancy and the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, Farnsworth and other wildlife scientists identified a set of priorities designed to provide safe passage while allowing for wind energy development, including focusing research on migratory routes and timing; studying how weather, topography and airspace affects bird and bat interactions with turbines; and establishing construction studies for assessing animal behavior.

Weather surveillance radar, thermal imaging, and microphones directed skyward to map migrations by day and night will help in this regard, the researchers say, as will monitoring and research studies of birds and bats before and after construction of existing wind energy facilities.

“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,” explains John Fitzpatrick, director of Cornell’s ornithology lab.

“It will also help flesh out specific guidelines for wind farm construction being developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” he adds.

“Imagine if a similar effort had taken place at the turn of the 20th century with the auto industry and air quality,” says Kraig Butrum, president and CEO of the American Wind Wildlife Institute. “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.”

Cornell University news: