Using This Guide: A Summary of What We Know about Wind Energy & Wildlife
Current U.S. carbon emission reduction goals indicate that wind and solar power will need to expand to five times today’s capacity by 2050 to reduce the risk of climate change to people and wildlife. Wind energy turbines do not release greenhouse gases or other air pollutants during operation, which contributes to a net reduction in the emissions that cause global warming. Over the entire project life-cycle, wind energy production uses substantially less water and causes fewer environmental impacts than biomass fuel, natural gas, or coal (even when paired with carbon capture technologies). However, wind energy, like all power sources, can have adverse impacts on wildlife. After more than 25 years of focused research, these impacts are much better understood, although uncertainty remains.
This guide summarizes the statutory and regulatory framework and context of wind energy and wildlife, the state-of-the-science on wind-wildlife interactions, and the strategies that are being implemented to avoid, minimize, and compensate for adverse impacts from onshore wind energy in the U.S. to wildlife and habitats.
Framework, State-of-the-Science, and Strategies to Manage Impacts
Wind energy facility siting and development is a complex process. Efforts to understand and address wildlife impacts begin with siting, permitting, and project development, through operation and management, to eventual repowering or decommissioning. Wind project development takes place in the context of federal laws, regulations, and guidelines, as well state and local requirements and recommendations for protecting wildlife.
Impacts to wildlife from wind energy include collision fatalities of birds and bats and changes in the quality or availability of habitat that occur during construction and operation of a wind facility. Through ongoing collaboration between scientists and other stakeholders, we are learning about factors that influence collision risk and how to reduce risk. Habitat-based impacts are more complicated and less well-understood and represent an important area for future research.
The first opportunities to avoid and minimize wildlife impacts occur during the earliest phases of project development: landscape assessment, site screening, site characterization, and project design. Siting is a key component to avoiding habitat-based impacts.
Birds, bats, and other wildlife are present everywhere in the U.S., so it is not possible to avoid some overlap with all species of concern. Wind-wildlife stakeholders have developed an array of strategies and technologies to minimize collision fatalities, including detecting species of concern and deterring them with audible or visual signals, or curtailing (shutting down) turbines when animals are detected or during times of heightened risk.
Adverse impacts to wildlife or habitat may occur after reasonable efforts have been made to avoid and minimize them. When this is the case, wind developers can implement or support compensatory mitigation strategies that measurably offset adverse impacts of a wind energy project on a given species or habitat.
Explore a selection of resources and publications on wind energy and wildlife, including key sources used to develop this guide. This page includes selected references and is not intended to provide a comprehensive bibliography.