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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

USGS investigates impacts of wind energy development on wildlife

February 11th, 2014 by Susan Smith

In response to the Department of Interior’s Powering Our Future initiative, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has begun investigating how to assess the impacts of wind energy development on wildlife at a national scale.

This research differs from previous USGS energy assessments of wind energy. While in the past the USGS has looked at recoverable resources of such as gas, geothermal, oil or coal, the USGS is developing a method for determining the impacts of a type of energy production. Since wind energy is one of the fastest growing areas of renewable energy in the U.S., it is interesting that the USGS is looking at the creation of assessment methodologies that combine its past research in land change science, wildlife ecology and wind-wildlife research.

In 2012,  approximately 3% of the total electricity in the United States was generated by wind turbines according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, equivalent to the annual electricity use for about 12 million households.  The amount of electricity powered by wind has increased from about 6 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) in 2000 to 140 billion kwh in 2012.

The new study to assess wind energy impacts on wildlife will be a national effort and will take into account how wind energy impacts both the wildlife and their habitats. Some already well known impacts on wildlife have been recognized in how many birds and bats die from colliding with turbine blades. Wind turbines are often grouped together in facilities to maximize electricity-generating capacity but not much data is available currently on where the turbines and wind farms are located nationally.

This study will look at mapping the location of wind turbines and farms, as well as height, blade length and energy producing capacity. They will also look at where the habitats of wildlife are in relation to the turbines.

Image shows several rows of wind turbines set against the brown and gray backdrop of mountains in CaliforniaThis image shows a wind farm on BLM land in California. Image credit: BLM

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Categories: geospatial, GIS

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