Eagles & wind energy

Wind turbines are not a threat to eagle populations

Turbines almost never kill bald eagles. Only a handful have been lost in the four-decade history of the industry in the U.S. Bald eagle populations are growing at a healthy rate. They now number 143,000 and counting, their highest level in decades.

Golden eagle fatalities are relatively uncommon at wind projects. In fact, less than 3 percent of all human-caused golden eagle deaths in the United States occur due to collisions with turbines. More than 90 percent of wind farms do not harm any eagles at all.

Better technology reduces impacts

The majority of golden eagle deaths occur at older wind farms build in the 1980s, when the relationship between turbines and eagles was not understood. Better-sited, modern turbines are replacing outdated ones and lowering deaths by 80 percent. Modern turbines have slower-rotating blades, and fewer are needed to generate the same amount of electricity.

Even with this tiny impact, the wind industry is doing more than any other known mortality source to find ways to reduce its impact. Researchers have found that wind energy has the smallest effect on wildlife and their habitats of all major ways to generate power.

What are the major causes of eagle fatalities?

Eagle fatalities only occur at a very small number of facilities across the country. Vastly greater amounts of fatalities are attributed to power lines, vehicle strikes, lead poisoning, drowning in stock tanks, illegal shootings, etc.

It is estimated that eagle fatalities will be reduced by as much as 80% as those long-standing wind sites replace their shorter, more numerous, faster-rotating old turbines with taller, less numerous, slower-rotating modern turbines that are sited based on more experience.

How the wind industry safeguards eagles

  • The wind industry proactively supports research on eagle populations and trends, their behavior, and all sources of mortality. It also seeks scientifically credible ways to lower and mitigate wind energy’s impacts.
  • Developers thoroughly evaluate risk to eagles before projects are sited and built. Developers make adjustment to wind farm design, turbine locations and project operations to reduce potential impacts. They abandon the riskiest sites in order to avoid significant impacts.
  • If the risk for eagle collision is high, operators are often required to continuously monitor for any impacts on eagles and mitigate for them should they occur.

Government guidance on protecting eagles

Under the direction of the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) developed an Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance for wind energy.  This guidance includes recommendations on evaluating the risk to eagles posed by a proposed site for a wind farm, categorizing a site based on that risk, the protocols for pre-construction and post-construction studies, and options for mitigating impacts, among other issues.

This guidance was prepared to detail the analysis necessary to support an application for the issuance of an eagle take permit under the 2009 Eagle Permit Rule that applied to a variety of activities, including wind energy. These permits are similar to take permits available under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is the gold standard for wildlife protection.

Developers agree to monitoring and various conservation measures, and in exchange their take permit provides some degree of legal and financial certainty, an essential for any business.

In 2012, the FWS proposed one important change to the permit program: extending the permit duration from five years to 30 years.The FWS released the final rule on December 14, 2016, which included the 30 year extension.

The eagle permitting program is intended to reduce harm to bald and golden eagles from any unintentional source. It sets very conservative limits to impacts on eagles and requires permit applicants to submit conservation plans that offset any such impacts. In the case of golden eagles, permittees must even go beyond offsetting any potential impacts and actually provide a net conservation benefit to the species. In short, through the issuance of permits, eagles realize a conservation benefit that helps to ensure the continued stability and growth of their populations.