Study Notes Benefits of Wind Power but Calls for Guidelines

May 9, 2007

A report released on May 3rd by the National Research Council (NRC), one of the National Academies, notes that wind power projects have definite environmental benefits but could potentially harm birds and bats. According to the NRC, wind power has significant environmental benefits, and by 2020 wind power could offset 4.5 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions produced by electrical generating stations. Although wind turbines can kill songbirds during their nocturnal migrations, the NRC sees no evidence of decreasing bird populations due to wind turbines. Regarding bats, wind turbines placed along ridges seem to cause the most harm, particularly in mid-Atlantic regions, although the data on bat mortality remain scarce. The NRC calls for more research on the impacts of wind power and notes that wind developers should conduct studies to determine the effects of wind power installations once they are put in place. The report also calls for government guidance to help communities and developers evaluate proposed wind energy projects. See the links to the report and an accompanying press release on the National Academies Web site.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) welcomed some aspects of the NRC report, particularly the fact that wind turbines were the cause of less than three in every 100,000 bird deaths in 2003. AWEA notes that the impacts on bats are being studied by the Bats & Wind Energy Cooperative and called for a comprehensive NRC study of the impacts of all energy sources. The Audubon Society also welcomed the report and noted that properly sited wind turbines hold great promise for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As noted by Audubon Senior Vice President Betsy Loyless, "If we don't find ways to reduce global warming pollution, far more birds and people will be threatened by climate change than by wind turbines." See the AWEA and Audubon press releases.

California is one state that is developing statewide guidelines for reducing wildlife impacts from wind power development. The California Energy Commission (CEC) issued draft guidelines on April 5th, and has extended the deadline for comments to May 15th. See the CEC Web page.