Wind Energy Development Environmental Concerns
Environmental concerns associated with wind energy development include bird and bat collisions, visual impacts, and noise.
Although wind turbines have less impact on the environment than fossil-fueled power plants, concerns have been raised primarily over the deaths of birds and bats that fly into the rotors and towers, visual impacts, and the noise produced by the rotors. These and other concerns associated with wind energy development are discussed below, and will be addressed in the Upper Great Plains Wind Energy Programmatic EIS.
Bird and Bat Collisions
Bird and bat deaths are one of the most controversial biological issues associated with wind turbines. The deaths of birds and bats at wind farm sites have raised concerns by fish and wildlife agencies and conservation groups. On the other hand, several large wind facilities have operated for years with only minor impacts on these animals.
To try to address this issue, the wind industry and government agencies have sponsored research into collisions, relevant bird and bat behavior, mitigation measures, and appropriate study design protocols. In addition, project developers are sometimes required to collect data through monitoring efforts at existing and proposed wind energy sites. Careful site selection can minimize fatalities and in some cases additional research may be needed to address bird and bat impact issues.
Because they must generally be sited in open places, wind turbines are often highly visible; however, being visible is not necessarily the same as being intrusive. Aesthetic issues are by their nature highly subjective. Proper siting decisions can help to avoid or reduce aesthetic impacts to the landscape. One strategy being used to partially offset visual impacts is to site fewer turbines in any one location by using multiple locations and by using today's larger and more efficient models of wind turbines.
Like all mechanical systems, wind turbines produce some noise when they operate. Most of the turbine noise is masked by the sound of the wind itself, and the turbines run only when the wind blows. In recent years, engineers have made design changes to reduce the noise from wind turbines. Early model turbines are generally noisier than most new and larger models. As wind turbines have become more efficient, more of the wind is converted into rotational torque and less into acoustic noise. Additionally, proper siting and insulating materials can be used to minimize noise impacts.
Other Environmental Concerns
Unlike most other power generation technologies, wind turbines do not use combustion to generate electricity, and hence don't produce air emissions. Potentially toxic or hazardous materials associated with wind energy facilities are relatively small amounts of lubricating oils and hydraulic and insulating fluids. The primary health and safety considerations are related to blade movement and the presence of industrial equipment in areas potentially accessible to the public. An additional concern associated with wind turbines is potential interference with radar and telecommunication facilities. And like all electrical generating facilities, wind generators produce electric and magnetic fields. Wind resource development may compete with other uses for the land, and those alternative uses may be more highly valued than electricity generation. Other impacts are associated with clearing of vegetation, and the construction and operation of access and maintenance roads, as well as trenching and burying of collector lines.
Environmental Concerns Associated with Transmission Line Enhancements
Wind energy development in Western's Upper Great Plains Customer Service Region would require building transmission facilities to connect wind facilities to the existing electrical system and also could require upgrading existing electric transmission facilities to allow such connection. A variety of potential environmental impacts are associated with electric transmission facility construction and operation, including impacts associated with right-of-way clearing, construction and operation of transmission lines and substations, and construction and operation of access and maintenance roads.
See the Electric Transmission and Transmission Facilities page for more information about electric transmission facilities.