USGS Assesses Wind Energy Impacts on Wildlife

February 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

USGS has recently undertaken a project to develop a methodology for assessing wind energy impacts on wildlife at a national scale.

According to the USGS blog, wind energy can impact both wildlife and their habitats. Wildlife impacts include potential bird and bat mortality from collisions with turbine blades, and in some cases, species avoidance of habitat near turbines. Habitat impacts include the turbine pads in addition to service roads, transmission lines, substations, meteorological towers, and other structures associated with wind energy siting, generation, and transmission.

A screenshot of the USGS WindFarm Mapping Application, which allows users to access the more than 47,000 individual wind turbines contained within the national wind turbine database. This view shows facilities in Southern California, color-coded for their wind-generating capacity. The red and yellow turbines have a higher electricity-generating capacity than the green and blue turbines do. Click the map to get started!

A screenshot of the USGS WindFarm Mapping Application, which allows users to access the more than 47,000 individual wind turbines contained within the national wind turbine database. This view shows facilities in Southern California, color-coded for their wind-generating capacity. The red and yellow turbines have a higher electricity-generating capacity than the green and blue turbines do. (Click the image to see the interactive map)

The first step in understanding the impact of wind energy development is to determine where the wind turbines are located. Prior to this study, there was no publicly available national-level data set of wind turbines. There were maps that showed turbines locations in a few states, and there were national-level maps that showed wind power facilities, but not individual turbines, or information about those turbines, such as height, blade length, or energy producing capacity.

To remedy the lack of information, the USGS created this publicly available national dataset and interactive mapping application of wind turbines. This dataset is built with publicly available data, as well as searching for and identifying individual wind turbines using satellite imagery. The locations of all wind turbines, including the publicly available datasets, were visually verified with high-resolution remote imagery to within plus or minus 10 meters.

Knowing the location of individual turbines, as well as information such as the make, model, height, area of the turbine blades, and capacity creates new opportunities for research, and important information for land and resource management. For example, turbine-level data will improve scientists’ ability to study wildlife collisions, the wakes causes by wind turbines, the interaction between wind turbines and ground based radar, and how wind energy facilities overlap with migratory flyways.

In addition to the value this powerful tool has to Federal and State land managers, non-governmental organizations, the energy industry, scientists, and the public, it will be a useful component in the methodology that the USGS is developing for assessing wind energy impacts on wildlife. The USGS is bringing together scientists with expertise in landscape-level science, wildlife biology, and other associated disciplines to create the methodology. Once developed, the methodology will be externally peer-reviewed and tested with pilot-level data projects. Once peer reviewed, the revised methodology will be published for others to understand and use.

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