Preliminary Wind Energy Impacts Assessment Methodology Released

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USGS has released a preliminary methodology to assess the population level impacts of onshore wind energy development on birds and bats. This wind energy impacts assessment methodology is the first of its kind, evaluating national to regional scale impacts of those bats and birds that breed in and migrate through the United States.

USGS has released a preliminary methodology to assess the population level impacts of onshore wind energy development on birds and bats.  This wind energy impacts assessment methodology is the first of its kind, evaluating national to regional scale impacts of those bats and birds that breed in and migrate through the United States.  The methodology focuses primarily on the effects of collisions between wildlife and turbines.

Primary uses of this new methodology, which is complementary to and incorporates detailed studies and demographic models USGS conducts on key species, include:

  • Quantitative measuring of the potential impacts to species’ populations through demographic modeling and the use of potential biologic removal methods.
  • Ranking species in terms of their direct and indirect relative risk to wind energy development.
  • Recommending species for more intensive demographic modeling or study.
  • Highlighting species for which the effects of wind energy development on their populations are projected to be small.

This new draft methodology is based on a robust quantitative and probabilistic framework used by the USGS in energy resource assessments. The assessment methodology also incorporates publicly available information on fatality incidents, population estimates, species range maps, turbine location data and biological characteristics.

The methodology includes a qualitative risk ranking component, as well as a generalized population modelling component. The USGS also repurposed a well-established marine mammal conservation method known as Potential Biological Removal.  This methodology identifies the maximum number of animals—not including natural deaths—that may be removed from a marine mammal population while allowing it to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population.  The USGS uses the Potential Biological Removal tool to compare the observed fatalities from collisions with wind turbines to the estimated number of fatalities that can occur before a population would decline.

This methodology also builds on previous USGS research on wind energy, for example, the USGS WindFarm map, released early 2014, that shows the location of all land-based wind turbines in the United States.

Applying expertise in biology, ecology, mapping and resource assessment, the USGS has contributed to the Department of the Interior’s Powering Our Future Initiative with this methodology to quantify the impact of wind energy development on birds and bats.

Throughout the course of this project, USGS scientists have engaged in discussions with a variety of partners and stakeholders, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense, as well as industry, non-governmental organizations, and universities.  The USGS will now solicit technical comments on this methodology from an expert panel external to the USGS and will consider these comments in developing the final methodology.

Additional ongoing USGS research is focused on understanding potential impacts to wildlife species on a national, regional, and localized scale. Examples of these efforts include developing wildlife and mortality survey protocols, estimating causes and magnitude of fatalities, assessing population level effects, describing bird migration and movement patterns, understanding wildlife interactions with turbines, and developing technologies to reduce fatalities from interactions with turbines.

The new methodology can be accessed here. For more information about USGS wind energy impacts efforts, visit the USGS Energy Resources Program Web site or follow us on Twitter.