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Relative energy production determines effect of repowering on wildlife mortality at wind energy facilities

March 31, 2021
  1. Reduction in wildlife mortality is often cited as a potential advantage to repowering wind facilities, that is, replacing smaller, lower capacity, closely spaced turbines, with larger, higher capacity ones, more widely spaced. Wildlife mortality rates, however, are affected by more than just size and spacing of turbines, varying with turbine operation, seasonal and daily weather and habitat, all of which can confound our ability to accurately measure the effect of repowering on wildlife mortality rates.
  2. We investigated the effect of repowering on wildlife mortality rates in a study conducted near Palm Springs, CA. We controlled for confounding effects of weather and habitat by measuring turbine‐caused wildlife mortality rates over a range of turbine sizes and spacing, all within the same time period, habitat and local weather conditions. We controlled for differences in turbine operation by standardizing mortality rate per unit energy produced.
  3. We found that avian and bat mortality rate was constant per unit of energy produced, across all sizes and spacings of turbines.
  4. Synthesis and applications. In the context of repowering a wind facility, our results suggest that the relative amount of energy produced, rather than simply the size, spacing or nameplate capacity of the replacement turbines, determines the relative rate of mortality prior to and after repowering. Consequently, in a given location, newer turbines would be expected to be less harmful to wildlife only if they produced less energy than the older models they replace. The implications are far‐reaching as 18% of US and 8% of world‐wide wind power capacity will likely be considered for repowering within ~5 years.