Environmental Impacts and Siting of Wind Projects

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A trained falcon, equipped with a global positioning system and a very high frequency (VHF) tracker, gathers radar data that is helping scientists improve bird detection technologies at wind facilities.

The Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) works to understand and mitigate barriers to wind power deployment by conducting research and development activities aimed at addressing siting and environmental issues. When properly sited, wind projects provide a net environmental benefit to the communities in which they operate and to the nation overall. To see a full listing of projects supported by WETO, see the Projects Map and select Program Area: Environmental Impacts and Siting.

Assessing and Mitigating Environmental Impacts

As with all energy supply options, wind energy development can have adverse environmental impacts, including the potential to reduce, fragment, or degrade habitat for wildlife, fish, and plants. Furthermore, spinning turbine blades can pose a threat to flying wildlife like birds and bats. Due to the potential impact that wind power can have on wildlife, and the potential for these issues to delay or hinder wind development in high-quality wind resource areas, addressing siting and permitting issues are among the wind industry’s highest priorities.

To address these issues and support environmentally sustainable development of wind power in the United States, WETO invests in projects that seek to characterize and understand the impact of wind on wildlife both on land and offshore. Furthermore, WETO invests in activities to collect and disseminate scientifically rigorous peer-reviewed research on environmental impacts through centralized information hubs such as Tethys. The office also invests in scientific research that enables the development of cost-effective technologies that can reduce wildlife impacts at land-based and offshore wind farms. 

WETO works to facilitate interagency collaboration on wind energy impacts and siting research to enable effective stewardship of taxpayer dollars in addressing environmental issues related to wind deployment in the United States.

Below are several examples of WETO's investments:

  • The program has funded peer-reviewed research for over 15 years, in part through collaborative partnerships with the wind industry and environmental organizations, such as the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC) and the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC). Since its formation in 2003, BWEC has been engaged in numerous research activities funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory, including studies assessing the impact of altering the cut-in-speed of wind turbines (the minimum wind speed at which wind turbines begin producing power), and the use of ultrasonic acoustic deterrents aimed at reducing impacts to bats at wind turbines.
  • In May 2009, the program announced nearly $2 million in environmental research grants aimed at reducing the risks to key species and habitats from wind power developments. One recent report, completed and released in 2013 by researchers from Kansas State University in collaboration with NWCC’s Grassland Community Collaborative found that wind development in Kansas had no strong effects on the population and reproduction of greater prairie chickens.
  • WETO is funding research and development projects that advance the technical readiness of bat impact mitigation and minimization technologies through a competitive funding opportunity. The Energy Department is supporting the following companies, universities, and organizations to field test and evaluate near-commercial bat impact mitigation technologies, which will provide regulators and wind facility owner-operators with viable and cost effective tools to reduce impacts on bats: Bat Conservation International, Frontier Wind, General Electric, Texas Christian University, and University of Massachusetts.
  • In 2016, WETO selected six teams to improve technologies that will protect eagles sharing airspace with wind turbines. More than $3 million was allocated across the six teams for groundbreaking, critical eagle-impact minimization technology research, and development projects. The research supported by this funding will provide wind plant owner-operators with viable and cost-effective tools for reducing potential impacts to eagles at wind farms. This important research builds on the Energy Department’s work to enable wind power deployment and ensure coexistence with wildlife by addressing siting and environmental issues. If successful, the research will protect wildlife while also providing the wind industry with new tools to minimize regulatory and financial risks.
  • WETO supports research activities that address biological interactions with offshore wind turbines. With this support, researchers are collecting critical information on marine life and offshore bird and bat activity that affects the deployment of U.S. offshore wind projects. For example, the Biodiversity Research Institute and a wide variety of collaborators conducted the largest ecological study ever completed in the Mid-Atlantic, to produce a detailed picture of the environment in Mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas that will facilitate permitting and environmental compliance for offshore wind projects. 

WETO also works with other federal agencies to develop guidelines that enable developers to meet the statutory, regulatory, and administrative requirements for protecting wildlife, national security, and public safety. For example, the Wind Energy Technologies Office worked with the Department of the Interior to develop its Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines and Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance

Assessing and Mitigating Radar Interference

WETO is also involved in an interagency partnership aimed at addressing the potential impacts of operating wind turbines on defense and civilian radar systems. Over the past several years, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Program has worked through the Interagency Field Test and Evaluation (IFT&E) campaigns to characterize the impact of wind turbines on the existing air surveillance radars, assess near-term mitigation methods proposed by industry, and collect and analyze data to advance research and development of long-term mitigation methods.

Three rounds of air testing near wind energy facilities in Minnesota and Texas were conducted during 2012 and 2013, culminating in a report and factsheets summarizing the testing. DOE and its interagency partners are working to build off these tests to ensure that mitigation methods that have been tested can be deployed to reduce impacts to radar near wind facilities. 

Environmental Impacts and Siting Resources

The following resources contain additional information about environmental impacts and siting:

  • Tethys: DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a novel database that houses a rich and diverse variety of resources on the potential environmental effects of offshore wind and marine and hydrokinetic development. Tethys features an interactive map of ocean energy environmental monitoring and research projects around the world. The newest addition to Tethys, Working Together to Resolve ENvironmental Effects of Wind Energy (WREN) hub, now houses resources on land-based wind environmental research and addresses environmental issues such as interactions between wildlife and wind turbines associated with the development of land-based and offshore wind energy projects.
  • Wind Wildlife Research Meetings’ Proceedings and Presentations: The NWCC hosts biennial meetings where researchers and wind-wildlife stakeholders share contributed papers and research posters that synthesize the most recent wind power-related wildlife research.
  • Wind Turbine Interactions with Birds, Bats, and their Habitats Factsheet: This document summarizes the current state of research on wind-wildlife interactions.
  • Developing Technologies for Bat Detection and Deterrence at Wind Facilities Webinar: The NWCC hosted a webinar discussing strategies to reduce bat mortality in wind energy facilities. Technologies discussed included texturized wind turbine towers and multiple ultrasonic deterrence strategies. The projects featured in this webinar received funding from DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office.
  • BWEC Publications: BWEC is an alliance of state and federal agencies, private industry, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions that develops solutions to mitigate wind turbines’ impacts on bats. BWEC has published several reports on its research, such as a synthesis of bat fatality mitigation studies and an evaluation of the effectiveness of ultrasonic acoustic deterrents.
  • IFT&E Report and Factsheets on Wind Turbine – Radar Interference Mitigation Technologies: These documents summarize the Interagency Field Test & Evaluation (IFT&E) program and the results from three field tests designed to measure the impact of wind turbines on air surveillance radars and the effectiveness of private sector technologies in mitigating that interference.
  • Landscape Assessment Tool: The American Wind Wildlife Institute’s Landscape Assessment Tool is a publically available mapping tool that displays biological information relevant to wind energy development in a given U.S. geographical area. Utilizing over 1,000 data layers, this tool allows wind developers to conduct high-level desktop screenings of potential project sites.

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