When I was reading an article about the growth of wind energy, I started to wonder how nearby animals are being affected by wind turbines. So, I did some more research to find out if wind turbines actually cause harm to animals.
Do wind turbines harm animals? Wind turbines do account for a certain number of wildlife deaths across the world, but not nearly as many in comparison to other natural causes. Although they do have the potential to be harmful to some species of animals, there are many reported cases and claims that have not been backed by scientific research.
While it is true that wind is one of the fastest growing sources of energy, rumors about its negative effect on wildlife have surfaced in the past several years. Aside from all the environmental and financial benefits that wind energy has to offer, could it potentially be damaging our wildlife?
Related: Bird Killers: The Environmental Cost of Being Environmentally Friendly
The Effect of Wind Turbines on Livestock
Since more wind turbines have been installed all over the world, there has been an increasing amount of claims that nearby livestock has been harmed by the emissions of the machines. It is believed that the sounds and infrasound rays produced by wind turbines can alter animals’ eating patterns and reproductive systems.
There was a study done in Taiwan years ago after a goat farmer lost over 400 of his animals after wind turbines were installed adjacent to his land. The goats were observed to have lost sleep and suffered from slow development before they passed away all at once.
Similar reports of different species of animals having miscarriages, stillbirths, and deaths after wind farms have been newly built in the area have surfaced as well. Dr. Nina Pierpont of John Hopkins Medical wrote a book titled Wind Turbine Syndrome.
The book highlights the negative impact that wind turbines have on all different types of animals. It also mentions chickens laying eggs with no shells as well as horses being unable to carry out a full term pregnancy.
Overall, the animals were supposedly behaving strangely with some of them completely disappearing with no warning. There have been many concerns about the minimal amount of testing that has been done on the potential effects of wind turbines on nearby animals over the years.
Although hundreds of these claims have been coming from all over the world, no concrete evidence on the subject has been brought to light as of yet.
The Effect of Wind Turbines on Flying Animals
The idea that flying animals such as birds and bats are often killed due to wind energy has been around as long as the turbines themselves. They have been known to get caught in the rotor blades or die in mid-air while flying through the area due to unusually high levels of pressure.
These claims have been proven both fact and fiction by several scientific studies in recent years.
In a study called State of the Birds that was conducted in 2014, it was proven that birds are not killed as frequently by wind turbines as they are due to other causes.
Wind turbines account for a total of approximately 300,000 bird deaths each year. Although this is a very large number, it is small in comparison to other more common causes of bird deaths.
Hundreds of millions of birds are killed each year by cars and even running into buildings. Over 3 billion birds are killed yearly by house cats. it is a fact that birds are frequently killed and injured by wind turbines, but they are more likely to die at the end of a cat chase rather than by flying into the blades of a wind turbine.
Another study that as published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal by Maria Thaker observed a mountain region in India that was home to a species of predatory raptor birds.
The results of this research showed that the wind turbines assumed the role of the top predator in the ecosystem in replacement of the large raptor birds. The wind turbines, however, did not have the effect on these birds that you might expect.
The Raptors did not get stuck in the blades or get injured by the turbines in any way, they were simply just scared away from the area entirely. In fact, they were found to be almost five times rarer in just that area alone. The wind turbines intimidated the species but did not physically harm them at all throughout the duration of the study.
On the contrary, there was a study that took place in the Appalachian mountains that tracked and observed the patterns of bats in the area. General statistics have shown that the majority of bat deaths across the world come from wind turbines alone, especially in this specific location. The results of this study, in particular, showed that bat deaths by wind turbines
Although this study focused on bat deaths, it was further confirmed that bird deaths by wind turbines are much less frequent than people make them out to be, especially in comparison to the bats. Over the time that this has become a relevant issue, scientists have proposed various solutions to limit the deaths of bats and other flying animals by wind turbines that happen so frequently.
How Wind Energy Can Benefit and Protect Wildlife
Within the same study that was performed in India focused on the predatory raptors, some observations were made about the lizards in the area. They were previously targeted by the reports before the installation of the wind turbines which caused the Raptors to vacate the area.
After this happened, the lizards were found to have significantly lower levels of stress hormones. Although the wind turbines did create a shift in the ecosystem’s food chain by replacing an entire species, their placement in that region was beneficial to at least one type of animal.
Aside from the benefits that the lizards in India experienced from the new wind turbines, the machines are still harmful to various other species of wildlife.
Since wind turbines have been proven to be most harmful to flying animals in particular, a few adjustments to the way wind energy is produced can limit a large portion of bird and bat deaths every year. It has been proposed that wind turbines be turned off during the migration seasons of these animals or any time they are likely to be flying through.
Bats, for example, migrate in the fall when it is the least windy out of all the seasons. If the wind turbines were turned off during this period, it would not interfere too much with the wind energy process. Despite these suggestions, no official action has been taken to move forward with these improvements.
On the other hand, some areas in California have tried switching to a new and improved design of wind turbine. Instead of creating a hazard for flying animals with the blades being so close to the ground, these new machines extend hundreds of feet higher into the air to avoid interaction with birds and bats.
They have also eliminated the lattice-patterned towers that could have attracted birds to land and nest inside of them.
There is a long list of pros that come with switching to a natural and renewable source of energy like wind, but these benefits are balanced by some negative effects on wildlife as well. Despite common concerns about wind energy, it can still continue to grow as a viable source of electricity with necessary improvements along the way.
Does Wind Energy Have Any Other Negative Effects?
The list of other negative effects caused by wind energy is very minimal. Most of the reasoning for the disapproval of wind turbines is due to minor issues such as the noises that come from the spinning blades and the undesirable visual aesthetic of wind farms.
Although the turbines do not look the best and may cause “visual pollution”, there is no real damage done to the environment around them. It has been rumored for years that the installation of too many wind turbines would eventually cause global warming, however, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
It has also been speculated that excessive use of wind energy can start to change the climate around it over time. However, scientific research has proven that it would take hundreds of years and a significantly larger amount of resource use for the wind to even begin to become depleted.
What Are The Benefits of Using Wind Energy?
Since wind is a natural and renewable source of energy, there are many environmental benefits that come with its use. First of all, it limits the release of toxic chemicals into the environment that can be consumed by nearby people and animals.
Wind energy also uses very minimal water during the process of generating electricity, so it prevents the waste of other natural resources. Aside from its environmental benefits, wind energy is a cost-efficient alternative to traditional electricity that comes from power plants.
If you’re serious about learning more about wind energy, I recommend the Wind Energy Handbook on Amazon. This book is great for both students and professionals, and it holds invaluable information on the subject of wind power.