WIND POWER: HOW SAFE IS IT FOR BIRDS?
Wind power is one of the sources of energy for our future. But how safe is it for birds and bats?
Before I talk about the birds and bats, here are some other foes of birds.
- Pesticides kill 67 million birds a year.
- Autos kill 200 million birds a year.
- Outdoor cats kill 2.4 billion birds a year.
- The biggest long-term threat to birds and other wildlife is climate change.
- All of these foes are part of our current fossil-fuel society which is in the process of changing.
Wind now supplies 6 per cent of our nation’s electricity which is enough to power 26 million homes. There are 59,000 turbines in 43 states plus Guam and Puerto Rico.
Technology is helping protect birds and bats from the wind turbines.
- IdentiFlight is used in Wyoming in their Top of the World wind project. There are 17,000 acres used for 110 turbines. IdentiFlight uses 47 multi camera units on 30-foot towers. When the camera sees a large bird (raptor) heading for the turbine, the camera sends an order to slow down the blades. Slowing the blades is done in a matter of seconds! This has saved large birds in Wyoming.
- Detection and Deterrence System is used on wind farms in California and Washington. The system uses cameras to identify birds and sends out a sound like a loud car horn. This causes the bird to change direction.
- Radio Telemetry is used on the Tchachapi Wind Farm in Southern California to protect their condors. The system picks up the radio signals from the state’s 170 wild condors. The radio signals alert the employees who shut down the turbines. Each of the condors wears a radio collar because they were raised in captivity. So far, no condors have died at the wind farm.
- To reduce bat deaths, the Illinois Pilot Hill Wind Project uses a system that sends out high-pitched sounds that cause the bat to change direction. Illinois Project reduced bat deaths by 67 per cent with this system. This system is also used by Kawailoa Wind Project on the island of O’ahu, Hawaii.
- Technology cannot protect birds and bats alone. Engineers must choose the location of wind farms carefully. Often the wind farms want the same area as large birds do, because of the beneficial winds. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2012 published guidelines for choosing the location of wind farms. The title is Land-Based Wind Energy
This reminds us that we need to be aware of the whole surroundings of any wind project. We cannot just think from the construction viewpoint. We must think of the wildlife viewpoint as well.
The next challenge is offshore wind farms. Rhode Island already has a wind farm 13 miles from their coast. More offshore farms will be built by Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina. Of course, there will be problems in starting these farms, but as we can see, people are capable of facing the problems and solving them.
For more information: “Shifting Winds” in National Wildlife, Aug-Sept 2019 and