10 of the Worst-sited Wind Energy Projects for Birds Identified

Group has petitioned for new regulations to protect birds from wind turbines
Wind turbines and birds

Thousands of new wind energy projects are being planned and built, often without regard for the serious risks they pose to birds and other wildlife. Photo by J Marjis, Shutterstock

Contact: Michael Hutchins, Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director, American Bird Conservancy, 202-888-7485

(Washington, D.C., March 24, 2016) American Bird Conservancy (ABC) today released a list of 10 of the worst-sited existing and proposed commercial wind energy projects from the perspective of bird conservation. As the hunger for alternative energy grows, thousands of new wind energy projects are being planned and built—often without regard for the serious risks they pose to birds and other wildlife. (View list as a report on our blog or as a PDF.)

A leader in developing and supporting the concept of “Bird-Smart” wind energy, ABC identified these 10 poorly sited projects based on a number of factors, including whether they fall in areas considered to be of high risk to birds on ABC's Wind Risk Assessment Map. ABC also examined pre-construction risk studies and related information about these 10 sites to assess the potential for impacts to federally protected species, and studied reports on post-construction mortality data where they were available.

Inadequate System of Checks and  Balances

“ABC supports Bird-Smart wind, and it is not our intention to criticize the concept of renewable wind development in general or the developers of the specific projects included in the list,” said Mike Parr, ABC Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer. “Rather, this list is intended to demonstrate that, under the present voluntary guidelines, there is an inadequate system of checks and balances to protect American native birds from poorly planned wind development on a large scale.”

“These projects are illustrative of a much broader problem,” Parr continued, “and have been selected to illustrate a range of threats to birds in various regions and habitats—threats that are unfortunately widespread in the wind industry.”

The listed projects—five already built or approved and five proposed—are located throughout the United States, in California, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Some of these projects, like the Summit Repowering Project in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in northern California, have a long history of causing bird deaths. Kaheawa on Maui, Hawaii, is considered a top killer of endangered birds, in spite of having conducted a pre-construction environmental risk assessment and implemented a Habitat Conservation Plan. Another, the proposed offshore Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, would be spread over a 24-square-mile area used by as many as six million migratory birds.

All of the listed projects illustrate the risks of poor siting and the limitations of current mitigation strategies, many of which are still untested for their efficacy. “The wind-energy industry has long claimed that the notorious wind developments in Altamont Pass are an exception in their killing of large numbers of eagles and other birds, and that other wind projects should not be judged in the same way,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, Director of ABC's Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “ABC's analysis shows that many wind projects kill birds, and not just eagles. Bird killing is more often the norm than the exception.”

Turbines in Sensitive Areas for Birds

The 10 listed projects are demonstrative of the inadequate consideration provided to birds during project planning and siting, in locations both on and offshore. As many as 52,000 large turbines already exist nationally, and tens of thousands more are planned, along with hundreds of miles of new transmission lines and towers to carry their energy to the grid. Wind-energy facilities and their associated infrastructure now result in the deaths every year, at minimum, of hundreds of thousands of federally protected birds. According to projections, this is likely to climb into the millions as wind power is fully built out.

ABC fully recognizes the important role that alternative energy, including wind power, can play in addressing climate change. However, current voluntary federal regulatory guidelines fail to keep wind developers from constructing and planning turbines or power transmission lines in sensitive areas for birds.

Proper Siting of Turbines Essential

Proper siting is essential and remains the most effective way for wind-energy developers to avoid or reduce bird mortality. ABC has mapped high-risk bird areas to help developers avoid bird hotspots and has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put in place a mandatory wind-facility permitting system that requires increased transparency, including independent environmental reviews, public availability of bird-mortality data, and mitigation and compensation for any completely unavoidable bird deaths.

“Alternative energy is not ‘green' if it is killing hundreds or thousands or millions of birds annually,” said Hutchins. “It's time to hold the industry accountable for conducting adequate, independent pre-construction site assessments and post-construction mortality studies, and for providing public access to the data so that they can help determine the efficacy and appropriateness of mitigation and compensation.

“Our wildlife should not be collateral damage in our effort to combat climate change, nor does it have to be,” Hutchins added. “Improved regulation and science leading to proper siting, effective mitigation, and compensation would go a long way to address this conflict.”

ABC's efforts to establish Bird-Smart wind energy in the U.S. are made possible in part by the generous support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

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American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere's bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.