NJAS Opinion: July, 2003
Eric Stiles, Vice President for Conservation & Stewardship
Dr. David Mizrahi, Vice President for Research
(This document is available to download in PDF format by
New Jersey Audubon Society (NJAS) and its 20,000 members
generally support environmentally-responsible renewable energy
sources, such as wind power, photovoltaic cells, geothermal and
hydro-fuel cells. Because traditional energy sources contribute
to global climate change, habitat change and degradation, smog
pollution, mercury contamination in our waterways, and
radioactive waste, NJAS recognizes the importance of developing
emission-free sources of energy. However, we are concerned about
the potential impacts of these developing technologies on
wildlife, and natural habitats.
Wind Power Generation
Among the currently available renewable energy technologies,
wind power is developing most rapidly. It may, however, have
the greatest potential for adversely affecting aerial wildlife
(e.g., birds, bats) and the habitats they occupy. These
adverse effects can manifest in several ways, such as habitat
fragmentation, disturbance, or mortality through collisions with
turbine blades or support structures.
Although several wind power generating facilities are
currently operating in the U.S., almost all are west of the
Mississippi, and none to date are sited in coastal or offshore
waters, or along ridge tops. Furthermore, most of the existing
wind farm sites do not occur along major bird or bat migration
routes. To date, only one large-scale facility east of the
Mississippi, in West Virginia, is being developed, and it is
sited along a north/south oriented ridge top. The largest known
single night songbird mortality event occurred at this site on a
foggy night during this year's spring migration, providing some
insight into potential wildlife impacts.
These points must be considered when interpreting both the
results of previous bird mortality and disturbance studies, and
how they may apply to proposed sites in the east. Birds
occurring along the Atlantic Flyway are subject to
meteorological conditions that are very different from
conditions birds experience in the western U.S., and thus, may
have inherently different flight strategies, and behavior.
In Europe, suitable inland wind generation sites are limited,
thus the major thrust of development is in near and offshore
areas (Soker et al. 2000). However, Soker et al. (2000) state
that "there is a major gap in knowledge about the influence of
offshore wind farms on birds, and no investigations about the
collision risks." A study of bird mortality at a small coastal
wind generating facility in the Netherlands recorded avian
fatalities of 37 birds/turbine/year (Winkelman 1994). This is
significantly greater than the mortality often reported from
western U.S. facilities (~two birds/turbine/year). Winkelman
(1994) concluded that this rate of mortality was consistent with
rates recorded at high-risk power lines, and with vehicular
collision mortality rates.
Avian migration behavior in the mid-Atlantic coastal region
may be more similar to the Netherlands than the western U.S. As
such, this may be a more appropriate mortality figure to
consider. Even this figure may underestimate potential
mortality along the Atlantic coast because Winkelman (1994)
examined smaller turbines than are being proposed in New Jersey.
Generally, it is inappropriate and ill advised to extrapolate
mortality figures from other regions when conducting risk
assessments or characterizations of potential impacts for New
Jersey sited projects. According to Erickson et al. (2002),
"The amount and extent of ecological baseline data to collect at
a wind project should be determined on a case-by-case basis."
Establishment of Transparent Process with Standards &
New Jersey regulating agencies, including the Board of Public
Utilities and Department of Environmental Protection, must adopt
clear policies articulating the permitting process for wind
power, including definitions, benchmarks, standards, and public
comment opportunities. Existing regulations fail to address the
complex issues arising from this new, innovative technology.
These policies must be adopted quickly, as publicly funded
projects are already in development. In particular, the state
of New Jersey needs to articulate clear rules to assess
potential impacts on natural resources (e.g., birds). This must
include a technical review committee, macro and micro site
selection standards, final site design standards, post
construction monitoring and mitigation, and consultant hiring
Technical Review Committee
The state of New Jersey should assemble a committee of
impartial wildlife experts to develop methods and protocols to
measure potential wildlife mortality, displacement and
disturbance. This committee also must establish clear
benchmarks for acceptable levels of wildlife mortality,
displacement and disturbance. These benchmark metrics must be
based on cumulative population-level impacts that include
effects from other sources (e.g. waterfowl hunting).
Macro-Site Selection Considerations
Per national siting recommendations, examining the potential
locations of wind farms is important as they juxtapose with bird
and bat migration flyways (Anderson et al. 1999). New Jersey
Audubon Society and others can provide expertise in this
regard. Wind farms sited outside these flyways might be
expected to have the least impact on wildlife. However, even if
they are sited peripheral to major flyways, they could have
demonstrable impacts on local populations, and threatened and
Micro-Site Selection Evaluation
1. Since New Jersey falls within major spring and fall
migration routes, and because little relevant work has been done
in this region, site evaluation studies must include multiple
seasons and perhaps multi year baseline data collection.
2. Site evaluation data collection should at a minimum
include the following methodologies to measure potential
wildlife mortality, displacement and disturbance:
a. Mobile Radar. This technique is perhaps the most
powerful tool for conducting a risk assessment as it provides
data on the abundance, spatial distribution and elevation of
birds. Some east coast industry consultants have stated that
this technology is substandard or too costly. However, it has
been used extensively in the western United States. New
Jersey Audubon has interviewed consultants using mobile radar
and they assert the importance and cost efficacy of this
b. Sound Recordings. This low cost technology uses
microphones in an array that can provide information on
species composition, abundance and altitude.
c. Visual Observations. Qualified observers should conduct
surveys that provide data on abundance and behavior of birds
on and around proposed sites.
d. Aerial Surveys. This method is chiefly employed in
determining species composition, abundance, behavior and
movement patterns in an offshore environment. Aerial surveys
can be used to supplement visual observations.
3. We are not proposing how much effort is required per
methods. This is likely site-specific, and must be done at a
level needed to achieve statistical validity.
4. Study plans should be
peer-reviewed by non biased biometricians and ornithologists.
5. Site evaluations should include a formal risk
assessment component. Final site design should seek to reduce
all expected impacts. All plans must conform to the federal
Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, federal
marine fisheries acts, and NJ Endangered and Nongame Species
6. Regulators reviewing final applications must
evaluate the site assessment, including measures of potential
wildlife mortality, displacement and disturbance, and compare it
with a priori government adopted standards.
Final Site Design Standards
Once a site has been selected as compliant with macro and
micro site selection criteria, including benchmark metrics, the
project should be designed to minimize its impacts. Design
standards should include spatial configuration, lighting,
density of turbines, tower visibility and tower design. The
Board of Public Utilities and NJ Department of Environmental
Protection should provide clear guidance to private industry on
Post-construction Monitoring and Mitigation
1. A formal post construction monitoring plan must be
created for each wind farm location. Funding must be committed
to conduct these studies. This must be included in the permit
2. If analysis of post
construction monitoring data indicates a need for mitigation,
this should be required as part of any issued permits.
Consultant Recommendations for Publicly Funded Projects
1. We would encourage the state of New Jersey to fund
studies by non industry experts to create guidance documents on
wind farm site selection and migration mapping directly.
2. Currently, public funds are
being allocated as an incentive for private industry to develop
wind energy. Since public dollars are partially subsidizing
private industrial development, the consultants hired should be
contracted directly by BPU. Ideally, BPU would establish an
escrow funding mechanism for all environmental assessments on
any utility type.
- Anderson, R., M. Morrison, K. Sinclair, and D. Strickland.
1999. Studying wind energy/bird interactions: a guidance
document. Report to National Wind Coordinating Committee,
Washington, D.C. 88pp.
- Erickson, W., G. Johnson, D. Young, D. Strickland, R.
Good. M. Bourassa, K. Bay, and K. Sernka. 2002. Synthesis and
comparison of baseline avian and bat use, raptor nesting and
mortality information from proposed and existing wind
developments. Report to Bonneville Power Administration,
Portland, OR. 124pp.
- Soker, H., K. Rehfeldt, F. Santjer, M. Strack, and M.
Schreiber. 2000. Offshore wind energy in the North Sea:
technical possibilities and ecological considerations - a
study for Greenpeace. Report (DEWI-SO 0005-10) to
Greenpeace, German Wind Energy Institute, Wilhelmshaven,
- Winkelman, J.E. 1994. Bird/wind turbine investigations in
Europe. Pages 43-48 in Proceedings of the National Avian-Wind
Power Planning Meeting, Denver, CO, 20-21 July 1994.
Proceeding prepared by LGL Ltd., environmental research
associates, King City, Ontario. Author's address: Birdlife/Vogelbescherming
Nederland, Driebergweweg, The Netherlands.