According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, about 20 percent of our country’s population 16 years and older are birders—people who like to watch and identify birds around their homes and in the wild.
With this level of interest in nature and wildlife, it’s no wonder that Xcel Energy receives a number of questions and comments from customers around wind turbines and birds, especially as wind energy is now a significant contributor to our energy supply. Last year 17 percent of the electricity that we supplied customers came from wind generation—something noteworthy if you really think about it. Companywide, wind provides more energy for our customers than nuclear power and nearly as much as natural gas.
All forms of energy can impact wildlife and other natural resources. For many decades, we’ve carefully managed these interactions and our approach to wind generation is no different. Here are some ways we manage the impact of wind turbines on birds and other wildlife.
Location, location, location
When siting a wind farm, not only do we look for locations with excellent wind conditions, we seek areas that will help avoid wildlife impacts. We work with wind project developers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other state wildlife or natural resource agencies on the siting and permitting of these facilities to ensure wind turbines are appropriately located. We follow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines and undertake numerous field surveys and studies to ensure turbines are not located in critical habitat areas, especially for population-sensitive, threatened and endangered species. Choosing the right location is a crucial first step.
Have a plan, just in case
For our new wind projects, we have detailed bird and bat conservation strategies that address the steps we will take to identify and mitigate impacts to avian and bat species during both construction and operation of wind energy projects.
Wildlife is wild after all. It doesn’t always do what you expect. As an example, this spring a pair of bald eagles moved into a location outside of what bird experts consider typical bald eagle nesting habitat—a small stand of trees near our new Pleasant Valley Wind Farm in Austin, Minn. After carefully considering our options, we shut down three of the closest wind turbines until the birds leave the nest this fall.
Study and monitor
After a wind farm is built, we continue to perform studies and monitor to confirm that wind turbine operations are not impacting migratory birds, bats and other protected species. We report any injuries and fatalities to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and appropriate state agencies. If this occurs, we may need to undertake additional mitigation measures.
Collaboration and partnership
We continue to work with the industry, wildlife agencies and nonprofit groups to learn and improve our practices. Recently Xcel Energy joined the American Wind Wildlife Institute, a nonprofit partnership dedicated to the responsible development of wind energy while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat.