Every year, wind turbines kill thousands of birds and bats, and because wind energy is growing so rapidly within the United States, this issue will only continue to grow unless changes are made. However, there may be progress in this area. About an hour east of San Francisco, Altamont Pass has been testing solutions to resolve this issue plaguing the wind energy sector.
Over the past years, Altamont has made efforts in reducing bird deaths by shutting down turbines in low wind months of winter as well as removing particularly hazardous turbines. Though today, an even larger effort is underway in order to decommission old turbines and replace them with new ones that will ideally kill fewer birds.
These new turbines are made with bonnet-like flaps that ring the perimeter of the turbine. The compact design is said to not only boost efficiency, but as they also sit above the typical height of bird flight paths, will greatly reduce the amount of bird deaths. However, there are still many tradeoffs. The larger, more efficient structures replacing the traditional turbines tend to sit four to five times taller than the older turbine, which still end up causing a great amount of deaths.
According to Graham Martin, an ornithologist in the UK, experiments have shown that migratory birds do not pay attention to what’s ahead of them, rather looking side to side and to the ground for hunting efforts. So simply changing the visibility of a turbine is not an effective solution in reducing this problem.
However, when comparing the costs and advantages of wind power over something like coal-powered plants, the impact on bird species may outweigh the environmental costs of nonrenewable resources. Ultimately, no technology comes without costs, but researchers will continue to work to mitigate its impacts.
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