As Seen on The Guardian- Burned Birds and Banged-up Bats: Victims of Renewable Energy are Getting Help

Sep 28, 2016 1:50 PM ET

Reports of birds burning while flying over a heat-intensive batch of solar concentrating mirrors and migratory bats colliding with wind turbines have raised concerns among environmentalists about the impact that new renewable energy systems may have on US wildlife.

These worries are increasing with renewable energy on the rise. Farmers and ranchers are leasing their land to wind developers who need space for their turbines. And massive solar farms, like Apple’s planned project in Monterey County, California, are expected to offer significant amounts of clean power and cost savings.

Renewable energy developers are required to do due diligence while scouting a site, to mitigate potentially lethal side effects. New projects cannot violate federal wildlife protection laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Many energy companies implement biodiversity management strategies to track animal movement in regions proposed for development, conduct behavioral analysis and assess causes of mortality to optimize survival rates years before even considering breaking ground.

The American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) is helping to strengthen both wildlife protection and the development of wind energy. AWWI has established a partnership of leaders from the wind industry, environmental and conservation organizations, and wildlife agencies. They all understand the risk to wildlife from climate change, and seek the timely and responsible development of wind energy while protecting creatures and their habitat.

“AWWI is built on the shared vision that we can achieve more clean, renewable wind energy and better conservation outcomes if we work together,” says Abby Arnold, executive director of AWWI. “This makes it possible to identify relevant research priorities, and to advance innovative technologies and measures to protect and conserve birds, bats and other wildlife while expanding the wind power we need.”

A separate study conducted by Benjamin K Sovacool for the Vermont Law School Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences found that low-pollution energy sources such as wind and solar power are less detrimental to wildlife, and that they can save birds while replacing “more harmful forms of electricity” such as nuclear and fossil-fueled power. The study, conducted in 2009, estimates that wind farms are responsible for 0.27 bird fatalities per gigawatt hour (GWh) – compared to nuclear power plants’ 0.6 deaths and fossil-fuel power stations’ approximately 9.4 deaths per GWh.

Although renewable energy’s impact on wildlife may seem low in comparison, it’s possible to further reduce these fatalities. Changes to make wind energy sites less harmful include:

  • Conducting due diligence to avoid protected species
  • Installing wind turbines away from ridge tops and other topographic features that attract raptors
  • Suspending wind turbine operation when protected birds or bats are detected
  • Removing or reconfiguring additional lighting that may attract bugs or confuse birds
  • Solar power developers are also taking steps to reduce negative impacts from installations, such as:
  • Retrofitting solar panels with mirrors so passing birds do not mistake them for water
  • Restoring habitats elsewhere to draw animals away from solar sites
  • Adding sonic or aromatic deterrents
  • Preventing birds and bats from perching and roosting at solar facilities

Research continues regarding more solutions to protect birds and bats while siting and developing renewable energy projects.

Duncan McIntyre, president of Altenex, an Edison Energy company, says he believes a fundamental shift to renewable energy is one of the most significant ways to protect wildlife and eco- and agricultural systems from the impacts of global warming.

“Renewable energy projects are evaluated and analyzed for their potential environmental impact,” McIntyre says. “The best projects are carefully designed to minimize impact on sensitive habitats, water usage and migratory flyways. Part of Altenex’s comprehensive project diligence is to review those impacts and help our clients identify the projects that offer not only persuasive financial performance but best-in-class sustainability performance as well.”

Luckily, solar arrays on residential rooftops aren’t large enough to have a heat impact on avian animals. Even rooftop arrays on commercial buildings – like those at General Motors’ Toledo Transmission facility in Ohio, Rancho Cucamonga warehouse in California and Baltimore Operations plant in Maryland – emit less heat.

Installing solar arrays over vacant industrial land is another lower-risk option. GM has partnered with the Michigan utility DTE Energy on solar projects housed in old company parking lots that send energy to the grid. DTE can place its renewable energy equipment at an already maintained space, minimizing effects on wildlife, while GM helps to provide clean power for the community.

GM works with its developer partners to conduct a thorough analysis of wildlife that may be migrating through the intended site location, verifying that proposed projects will have minimal impact.

“Supporting renewable energy projects is a key component to protecting our planet’s animals from the impacts of climate change,” says Sue Kelsey, GM’s biodiversity program manager. “Collaboration between industry and environmental groups will help protect local biodiversity while bringing more clean energy to communities.”

Reposted from with permission.