A hawk sitting on a branch.

Hawks like this one are benefiting from new adaptive management measures across the globe. Photo courtesy of Montanus Photography

Wind energy development projects continue to improve their practices through lessons learned and better understanding the outcome of management decisions, especially with wind and wildlife impacts. The process of adaptive management (AM) is of increasing interest worldwide. The practice is being considered for the wind industry to employ a learning-based management approach to reduce scientific uncertainty.

While environmental reviews of wind projects may be extensive, sometimes impacts are apparent only after the turbines are spinning. Adaptive management means keeping close watch on wind farms and pooling data to inform other projects around the globe.

Implementing AM has the potential for impressive results—reduced deaths of raptors in Spain, new measures to protect eagles in Norway, and less risk to hen harriers in the United Kingdom. It is an international effort that also furthers cooperation and teamwork.

While ultimately the practice has potential benefits, practical and economic challenges can arise from mandated AM regimes. Adaptive management has the potential to add uncertainty surrounding monitoring and mitigation requirements that may affect variables, such as project financing. In the United States, some wind farms are working to address this by developing tiered AM plans that lay out actions that will be taken if impacts exceed expected levels.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientist Andrea Copping is one of the lead authors of a recent white paper that explores the benefits and challenges of AM applied to wind energy.

"The concept grew out of the United States, but we learned immediately that while other countries said they were not familiar with the term adaptive management, they were actually applying many of the principles," said Copping. "We can learn from every project. Perhaps the unintended consequences a wind operator addresses will help the next project in its planning stages."

"If you are creating a single wind farm, what you learn can benefit not only your site. It may also benefit wind farms across the landscape if we pool what we are learning," she added.

In Spain, stakeholders used the approach to monitor the behavior of raptors near wind farms; the insights cut in half the number of collisions with just a small reduction in energy production. In the United Kingdom, monitors found that hen harriers were much more likely to populate the fields around wind turbines after the fields are mowed. That finding resulted in a modified mowing schedule to reduce bird blades strikes, and it also provides important information about the siting of future turbines.

The Adaptive Management White Paper, sponsored by Working Together to Resolve Environmental Effects of Wind Energy (WREN), includes authors from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Marine Scotland Science, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Berlin Institute of Technology.

Copping helps lead a group of wind energy stakeholders from 11 nations who meet regularly through WREN. WREN, an initiative under the International Energy Agency Wind Committee, is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Tethys Knowledge Management System.