5 cool ways that wind farms can support wildlife

Companies in the wind industry are taking steps to support birds, bats and marine life at their developments, and our new e-book predicts we will hear a lot more about innovations here in the coming years. Here are five recent stories we’ve heard about this vital work.


April 11, 2018

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Companies in the wind industry are taking steps to support birds, bats and marine life at their developments, and our new e-book predicts we will hear a lot more about innovations here in the coming years. Here are five recent stories we’ve heard about this vital work.


Ban cats! It’s the only solution. According to a 2013 study of 10,000 birds that died as a result of human activity, nearly three-quarters (7.252) were killed by people’s pet cats.

The other biggest killers included buildings, non-renewable power projects and vehicles, with agriculture and forestry also among the ignominious top six. And how many of the 10,000 deaths could be attributed to wind turbines? Just one – or less than 0.01%.

And yet, despite that, critics of the wind industry from President Trump downwards single out wind farms for special criticism when it comes to bird deaths. This means that there’s pressure on wind farm owners to demonstrate how they plan to protect these species.

In the run-up to our Financing Wind New York conference on 30th May, A Word About Wind has produced an e-book called ’20 Predictions for Wind in North America’ on the prospects for the sector in 2018 and 2019. You can download a copy of the report here. One of our 20 predictions is that project owners will do a lot more to address the impact of their schemes on wildlife; and will also publicise their efforts to help address the criticisms head on.

But how are wind farm developers seeking to help or protect wildlife at their projects? Here are five cool stories we’ve seen recently…

1. The world’s there for oysters

This month, a group made up of Van Oord, Investri Offshore and Green Giraffe won the race to develop a 19MW offshore project in Dutch waters called Borssele 5. The 19MW project is set to be made up of two 9.5MW MHI Vestas turbines and be operational in 2021.

This project may not be huge, but it is notable as it includes technology designed to help cut the costs of offshore wind energy and improve the sector’s environmental impacts. The part that has really grabbed our attention is that the project is set to include artificial reefs that can help to promote biodiversity in the North Sea – and particularly for oysters.

The Netherlands Enterprise Agency has explained that introducing these reefs in the scour protection at the bottom of the turbines would allow oysters to flourish. It said this would be aided because fishermen would not be able to carry out activities around the turbines, such as trawl fishing, that disturbs the seabed.

It wrote in a press release that oyster beds would be planted to support this process:

The oyster beds will prevent erosion of the sea floor around the wind turbines’ foundations and aid in the recovery of the marine ecosystem in the North Sea. Rocks of various types and dimensions will be placed on the seabed to limit the flow of water over it and the disturbance of its sediment, creating an ideal habitat for oysters. The rocks are enriched with calciferous shell material, which provides a good substrate for the oysters. When the bed is planted, oysters in various stages of their life cycle will be added. They will then reproduce and spread throughout the North Sea. Good news for the oysters (if not for gourmands): these oyster beds will not be harvested. Instead, they will remain on the reef to allow further replenishment of the seabed and development of the ecosystem.

2. Golden opportunity to prevent eagle deaths

Five years ago, Duke Energy Renewables was sentenced in a court in Wyoming and handed a $1m fine for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This was in relation to the deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of the company’s wind farms in Wyoming.

The case focused on the discovery of bodies of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks and blackbirds, at its Campbell Hill and Top Of The World wind farms in Wyoming. This was the first time the Obama administration took legal action against a wind farm owner over the deaths of protected birds at a wind farm.

However, far from shying away from the problem, Duke Energy Renewables has sought to address it, and in January it announced that it would roll out an artificial intelligence-based defence system at Top Of The World. The idea is to help it detect eagles and prevent them colliding into turbine blades by using system from a firm called IdentiFlight International. It says that the system blends artificial intelligence with high-precision optical technology.

Here’s an explanation of how the technology works from IdentiFlight:

Automatic detection and species determination occur within seconds for birds flying within a one kilometer hemisphere around an IdentiFlight tower. If an eagle’s speed and flight path indicate risk of collision, an alert is generated to shut down that specific wind turbine. By providing highly targeted, informed and objective curtailment decisions, unnecessary and costly interruptions are avoided and conservation of protected species is achieved.

Tim Hayes, environmental director at Duke Energy Renewables, said this showed that Duke was committed to protecting birds. He said: “Since Top Of The World began operations, we have tested a variety of techniques and technologies to reduce impacts to eagles. The IdentiFlight system has shown great promise for effectively reducing eagle collisions.”

Here’s an explanation on that system:

3. Offshore wind farms flexing their mussels

In February, the American Wind Energy Association and Deepwater Wind published a video that showed maritime life flourishing at the base of the turbines at America’s first offshore wind farm, the 30MW Block Island. This included testimonials from fishermen on how the foundations had created a reef that had help to support species including mussels.

AWEA also highlighted a study in Europe that found a single wind turbine could support up to four metric tonnes of shellfish, which in turn attracts fish to the area. And a study from the Helmholtz Center for Materials & Coastal Research in Germany has also shown that the presence of offshore wind turbines is helping to support marine life: not only can mussels thrive, but they also bring other species into the area – including seals and porpoises.

We’re all interested in seeing how offshore wind farms affect the marine environment.

But there is still a long way to go to calm relationships between the offshore wind industry and US fishing sector. For example, Rhode Island fishing industry advocate Chris Brown has expressed concerns that offshore wind turbines and their cables could displace fish species and their habitats; and hinder the commercial fishing industry.

And, this month, Deepwater Wind has been in consultation with commercial fishing groups over the potential impact of its planned 15-turbine 90MW South Fork scheme. The groups are worried about the fact that scheme could prevent them from accessing fertile fishing grounds. Aileen Kenney, vice president at Deepwater Wind, said it would conduct multiple studies of the site and its maritime life once it gets its other permits in place.

Those who argue wind companies don’t care about wildlife couldn’t be further from the truth. For one thing, they couldn’t get their permits if they hadn’t carried out these studies.

4. High-tech scarecrows to put off eagles

Researchers from Oregon State University reported in March that they had created a system that could help prevent birds or bats from colliding with turbines, as well as telling the wind farm owner when any do. And Roberto Albertani, Boeing Professor Mechanical Engineering Design at Oregon State University, summed up one reason why this matters to owners.

“If a turbine strikes a generic bird, sad as that is, it’s not as critical as striking a protected golden eagle, which could potentially trigger down time in turbine operations and losses in revenue, and most important the loss of a member of a protected species,” he said.

Albertani and other OSU researchers are working on a system that would use computer-connected cameras to detect if an eagle is approaching a wind farm, and whether it’s flying at the blades. If it is, the system would trigger a display of brightly-coloured representations of randomly-moving people at ground level to deter eagles away from the scheme.

We’ll keep a close eye on this plan for what sounds like a 21st century scarecrow.

5. Turning off turbines to protect bats, man

Researchers at the University of Bern have carried out a study into the impact of wind farms on bats in southwest Switzerland. They have found that if wind farm owners turned off their turbines when wind speeds are low then this could also cut the risk of bat deaths to 5%.

Their work involved using ultrasonic detectors, called Batloggers, to observe the activities of bat species. They found that only a few bat species fly at heights where they could be killed by turbine blades (between 50metres and 150metres); and that most species would avoid flying when the wind speed exceeds 5.4metres per second.

The study’s leader Raphaël Arlettaz said a “simple adaptation of the night time operation of wind turbines would greatly limit the risk of bats colliding with the blades”. One of the main beneficiaries of this in the study area was on European free-tailed bats, which can fly long distances at high altitudes in search of insects.

This reiterates other studies in Europe and North America that argue wind farms should be turned off at night to protect bat populations – and we expect to see more activity in the wind industry on bat deaths as the industry seeks to mitigate environmental impacts.

Ultimately, we are confident that companies in the wind industry take their responsibility to wildlife seriously and that, if they want to keep winning support for new schemes, they will keep looking for ways to make them safer for birds and other species.

Now we just need to work on fixing that cat problem.

If you want to read our free e-book on ’20 Predictions for Wind in North America’, you can download it by clicking below…

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