Studies find that wind has the lowest impacts on wildlife and their surrounding habitats of any large-scale way to generate electricity, and the wind energy industry proactively addresses any wildlife impacts that may arise.
Today, climate change causes the most significant threats to wildlife. By displacing sources of energy that contribute carbon pollution, wind power plays a key role in addressing this threat. Additionally, the wind energy industry studies and mitigates wildlife impacts more than any other energy industry.
The wind industry takes a systematic approach to identifying wildlife impacts and engaging in initiatives to reduce, if not eliminate them. It also includes protections for wildlife not covered by federal law. The wind industry follows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines to minimize impacts on wildlife.
Protecting air, water, and land
Climate change poses an immediate risk to wildlife. The United Nations predicts that climate change may contribute to the extinction of 20-30 percent of all species by 2030. Fortunately, wind energy can play a major role in reducing carbon emissions.
Wind energy does not emit harmful pollutants like particulates, methane, mercury, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides, all pollutants found in traditional sources of energy.
Wind power requires no fuel for mining or drilling, and produces minimal amounts of waste. Wind energy also avoids the consumption of tens of billions of gallons of water annually, which just one reason why wind energy results in a more sustainable energy portfolio, benefiting the entire ecosystem.
Species-specific wildlife issues
Wind power’s impact is extremely small compared to other human-related sources of bird mortality, such as collisions with buildings and communications towers, vehicle strikes and habitat conversion. Overall, wind causes less than 0.01 percent of all human-related bird deaths in the United States.
Even with its relatively low impacts, the U.S. wind industry holds itself to a higher standard and does more to study, avoid, minimize, and mitigate any wildlife impacts than any other industry. Resulting conservation programs by wind developers save habitat and help protect birds.
Incidental losses at turbine sites will never be more than an extremely small fraction of bird deaths caused by human activities—an estimated 328,000 of the more than 2.5 billion bird mortalities in North America, according to the most comprehensive analysis to date. Other causes include buildings (676 million), power lines (32 million), cars (214 million), pesticide poisoning, (72 million), and radio and cell towers (6.6 million).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Land-based Wind Energy Guidelines include information on pre- and post-construction analysis and recommendations related to bats. The industry also provides guidelines for species of bats not otherwise protected under federal law.
In 2003, AWEA and numerous other organizations formed the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC). BWEC researches bat interactions with wind turbines with the goal of reducing bat impacts at wind farms.
In 2008 the industry, along with national conservation organizations like National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation, formed the American Wind and Wildlife Institute, which addresses many wind and wildlife issues, including bats.
For more information, see American Wind Wildlife Institute's Issue Brief on Bats and Wind Energy and Bat Conservation International’s description of BWEC.
The wind industry protects eagles by supporting research on eagle population trends and behavior. Developers evaluate risks to eagles before projects are sited or built. They adjust wind farm design, turbine location, and project operations to reduce potential harm.
- Eagle fatalities occur at very few facilities across the country. Significantly more fatalities occur due to lead poisoning, power lines, vehicles, illegal shootings, and other dangers. Over 90 percent of existing wind farms have zero eagle impacts.
- Wind energy almost never affects bald eagles-- only a handful have ever been lost in the four-decade history of the U.S. wind industry. Their populations are at the highest level in decades.
- Golden eagle impacts at wind farms are also uncommon, accounting for less than 5 percent of human caused-deaths in the U.S, with many of those impacts concentrated in a small areas of the country, in parts of California and Wyoming.
Most impacts occur in the Altamont region of California, at older wind farms built in the 1980’s when the relationship between turbines and eagles was not understood. Better sites and modern turbines are replacing outdated ones, helping to lower eagle impacts in that area by nearly 80 percent.
The wind industry follows the Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance for wind energy developed by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This guidance includes recommendations for evaluating risk to eagles at proposed sites, protocols for pre- and post-construction studies, and options for mitigating impacts.
The permitting program requires conservation plans to minimize and mitigate any impact. Through this, the industry helps ensure the stability and growth of eagle populations across the country.