Amongst the small contingent of wind energy detractors, a recurring concern has been the risk imposed by turbines on various forms of wildlife, most specifically, avian wildlife. Some opposed to wind development have argued that spinning rotors of a wind turbine atop its tower pose a severe threat to wildlife. However, thanks in part to a new study addressing the subject, it appears that these arguments have been misguided at best and miss the bigger picture of the risks every human structure imposes on local wildlife populations. Conducted by the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the “Comparison of Reported Effects and Risks to Vertebrate Wildlife from Six Electricity Generation Types in the New York/New England Region” broke the pattern of looking solely at the wildlife impacts of wind energy by examining six major power generation methods to compare and contrast the risks of each energy source. An important guiding procedure of the study involved analyzing the entire project life cycle of energy sources: resource extraction, fuel transportation, facility construction, power generation, transmission and delivery, and decommissioning of the facility. The results showed that the renewable sources – wind and hydro – posed the least significant wildlife impacts when compared to their nonrenewable counterparts – coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear. Coal was found to exhibit the largest impact.

Although wind’s most notable wildlife impact is on birds and bats, the study points out that during the transmission and delivery stage, all forms of electricity generation pose moderate risks to these and other animals. When the impacts of all phases of energy production are considered, wind’s overall risks decrease significantly relative to other modes of energy production. Rene Braud, Director of Permitting and Environmental Affairs for Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, notes that much of the talk surrounding wind energy’s bird and bat impacts have been “fear-based.” The negative hype “hasn’t been based on science. The study gave us some objective, good research into what we’ve thought all along,” she adds.
Still, in spite of wind’s minimal comparable wildlife impacts, the wind industry continues to look at ways to minimize those moderate risks. “For every project National Wind works on, we notify and consult with Fish and Wildlife officials early in the development process, which improves a project’s compatibility with wildlife considerations. We conduct the necessary vegetation and endangered species studies in order to avoid negative environmental impacts as much as possible,” said Chuck Burdick, Wind Developer at National Wind.

With the Senate looking at possible national renewable electricity standards, the NYSERDA study helps to clarify important information and set the story straight on another wind energy myth.