Wildlife Impacts of Wind Energy
As with all energy projects, wildlife impacts from wind project development vary by location. The wind industry incorporates pre- and post-development studies, educated siting, and other impact reduction tools to decrease wildlife impacts.
Research shows that wind projects actually rank near the bottom of the list of developments that negatively impact wildlife and the environment. In fact, the Audubon Society strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threat posed to birds and people by climate change.
For wind energy to continue to be a sustainable resource, it is vital that wind power projects are appropriately and responsibly sited, which includes the protection of wildlife and their habitat. Industry, government agencies, and wildlife advocates come together in various ways to collaborate on these issues.
Turbine Siting and Birds
Unlike today’s turbines, which are large, spaced far apart, and properly screened for wildlife interactions, earlier generations of wind turbines were located closer together. The combination of their rapidly spinning blades and lattice tower mounts—which birds perch on—resulted in the death of many birds in California’s Altamont Pass, an area of rolling grassland home to a substantial raptor population.
Wind power proponents now conduct wildlife (and particularly avian) studies as a regular part of screening sites for development. Project developers can utilize tools like the ones listed below to assist with proper siting. Learn more about proper wind turbine siting and how it minimizes the impacts on local avian species.
Turbine Siting and Bats
Industry and wildlife organizations are also collaborating to study and understand how bats interact with wind turbines. To minimize bat mortality, wind farm developers are raising the speed at which their turbines begin to spin. They are also exploring the development of ultrasonic deterrents to warn bats away from turbines. The issue is becoming a focus of the wind farm permitting process in areas where bats are known to exist. Bat Conservation International and the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative provide information on bats and wind turbines.
Turbines and Marine Mammals
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management offers a fact sheet on their website that answers many questions about marine mammal interaction and offshore energy development. If you have additional questions they can be directed to BOEMPublicAffairs@boem.gov. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offers answers to frequently asked questions about marine mammal stranding investigations as well as answers to frequenly asked questions regarding interactions between whales and offshore wind energy projects along the U.S. East Coast.
In January 2023, NOAA Fisheries hosted a media briefing about recent East Coast whale strandings. Find a recording of that briefing on thier site, or refer to an interactive map that shows locations of 2016–2023 humpback whale strandings. In March 2023, in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection released a statement that they had found no credible evidence of a connection between offshore wind energy construction off the coast of New Jersey to Atlantic whale mortalities.
Additional Environmental Impacts Resources
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Wind-Wildlife Research
- OpenEI: Wildlife and Wind Energy
- Tethys Wind Energy Database
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines
- American Wind Wildlife Institute’s Wind Turbine Interactions with Wildlife and their Habitats
- Approaches to Addressing Environmental Challenges with Wind Energy in the United States
Environmental Impacts Tools
- Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool: Mapping Fish and Wildlife across the West
- GenEst: A Generalized Estimator of Mortality
- Bat Acoustic Monitoring Visualization Tool
- Playa Lakes Joint Venture Interactive Playa Map
- WINDExchange webinar: Wind Energy and Eagles: The Problem, the Permit, and the Path Forward
- Tethys Environmental Webinars