Small Adjustments to Wind Turbines Can Reduce Impacts on Birds, New Study Finds

Photo credit: Wind Denmark

About 150,000 birds are affected by wind turbines every year in the United States, from collisions with equipment to changes in bird habitats due to wind disturbance, construction, and other factors, according to a recent study published in the journal Energy Science. But simple changes, such as building taller turbines with shorter blades, can help significantly reduce these impacts, the study found.

The research analyzed data from 1,670 wind turbines and 86 bird observation routes across 36 states between 2008 to 2014.

“We found that there was a negative impact of three birds lost for every turbine within 400 meters of a bird habitat,” Madhu Khanna, professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois and co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “The impact faded away as the distance increased.”

Khanna and her colleagues suggested that turbines be placed outside a one-mile buffer zone around high-density bird habitats. Taller turbines with shorter blades also resulted in fewer bird deaths and other negative impacts. “No single technology is such that it is only beneficial and has no negative consequences,” Khanna said. “You can minimize the effect by making the recommended adjustments.”

Previous studies have estimated that turbines affect as many as 573,000 birds in the U.S. every year. But the new research, using a larger data set over a longer period of time, resulted in a more conservative estimate of birds affected by wind turbines.

—Christian Detisch