Scientists at The Nature Conservancy in Montana have completed the first analysis of where wind generation facilities can be located with minimal risk to the state’s wildlife and the environment.
Wind provides great promise for a clean and renewable source of energy, but each year wind generation facilities kill tens of thousands of birds and important pollinators such as bats. And yet, wind energy development has moved forward with very little science-based analysis that might help prevent this kind of environmental harm. The impacts of wind generation are greater than just the immediate airspace. Most turbines take up 40-100 acres of land, so large-scale wind farms can span thousands of acres. Each facility also requires roads and transmission corridors.
The Conservancy study focused on 30 wildlife species that research suggests are susceptible to the impacts of wind development, including sage grouse, piping plover, a number of grassland birds, grizzly bear, as well as implications for antelope, mule deer, and elk. By overlaying wildlife habitat data with maps showing areas with the greatest wind energy potential, the study begins to paint a picture of where wind energy can be tapped with the least impact on wildlife.
Of approximately 17-million acres identified as having high potential for wind generation, more than 9-million have a relatively low risk to resident wildlife. Not surprisingly, a large portion of these acres are in cropland or have experienced some form of development.
The analysis is just a first step. As Conservancy Science Director Brian Martin points out, “This analysis was based on resident and breeding species. Further study needs to be undertaken for wildlife such as migratory birds and bats. ”Even so, it provides invaluable information for those designing policy that will guide the course of Montana’s energy future..
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.